Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sorry for the lack of blog activity the last few weeks. I´ve been in Finland the past 2.5 weeks working (most of the time...there were a few parties in that span of time). Being away from a computer has more or less resulted in a dead blog. It seems that traveling (and not being bored with a computer) is bad for maintaining a blog. Trust me, I`m not running low on wacky ideas and irrelevant opinions. It is just time; that`s my excuse. My blog-partner is also too busy, though she just finished her job in Kassel, so maybe you`ll be hearing more of her wild ideas next year. Speaking of next year, Ines and I have packed all our things and have left Kassel. Next year we start a new existence in Leipzig. More adventures to come...

Until we`re ready to blog about those adventures, we wish everyone a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

Dan and Ines

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Here is the best headline I've seen in recent memory: World's tallest man saves dolphins in China. Check this out.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

This may be the warmest Autumn in the past 500 years in Europe (see here). And I just bought a new winter jacket this year...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Two scientific tidbits caught my attention today. The first one, here, is about smoking. Apparently, reducing the number cigarettes smoked doesn't reduce the risk of death. So to all of the smokers out there, ya gotta quit! No excuses like "I'm just a light/casual smoker". Alternatively, you could just really enjoy your habit and start smoking 5 packs a day. Perhaps that won't increase your death risk. The second bit of science that interested me is here. Some zoologists have discovered that cetaceans (whales) have more complex brains than previously thought. Specifically, they have a type of brain cell that is primarily found in the great apes. This is likely a case of convergent evolution, i.e. similar traits arising independently in separate lineages. What are the characteristics, the selective pressures, that have favored these traits in such divergenet animals such as humans and whales? One major similarity between us is that we're both rather social creatures. Social behavior favors sophisticated brains, hmmmmm.....

Monday, November 27, 2006

The best pumpkin pie ever...

This past Saturday Ines, I, and several friends celebrated Thanksgiving. We missed the actual Thanksgiving holiday (Thursday) for several reasons. I was out of town at an interview (which went fairly well), and everyone else was working. On Saturday, however, we made many of the traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes, so it definitely felt like Thanksgiving...the only thing missing was football. The most entertaining of our cooking enterprises was the pumpkin pie, the traditional Thanksgiving dessert. We started the day by going to the farmer's market in Kassel. Though there were several people selling pumpkins, we decided that it would be easier to buy pumpkin pieces in a jar. Good idea? Apparently not. We soon learned that all pumpkin sold in jars is in a sweet and sour sauce (think pickles), which is not so desirable for pie-making. After this realization, we made trips to about 5 different supermarkets looking for a real, whole pumpkin. No dice. Because I insisted that we have a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, we decided to try making the pickled pumpkins into a pie. After mixing all the ingredients together, we had a pretty good looking pumpkin pie mix. We even added enough sugar to hide any sour taste. We put the pie into the oven confident that we'd soon have a decent pie. A half hour later, we were disappointed to discover that our pie did not solidify at all. It was totally liquid. To make it more solid, we tried cooking it some more and then we tried cooling it off...both methods helped make it more solid, but I wouldn't call either a solution. The pie was still rather fluid. Though it wasn't perfect, the pie still tasted pretty damn good. Where's the point in this anecdote? It's this: make pumpkin pie the american way, from a can. Yeah, it is much easier to buy pumpkin pie in a can. Problem is that you can only buy pumpkin pie in a can in the U.S. (as far as I know). I gotta add this to the list of things to bring back from stateside visits.

Monday, November 20, 2006

For all of those bored people out there, here's a suggestion: watch Dr. Strangelove. It's a classic movie from the 60s satirizing the cold war. It's funny, yet I can imagine how it was also scary at the time. Here's an entertaining quote to entice you from the title character, Dr. Strangelove. The crippled, weapons researcher is discussing whether a Doomsday device can be disabled.

"Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential. That is the whole idea of this machine, you know. Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy... the FEAR to attack. And so, because of the automated and irrevocable decision-making process which rules out human meddling, the Doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand... and completely credible and convincing."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

This comic is pretty funny. Now I also want to know if a duck's quack echoes or not. Moreover, the comic also justifies the posting of other pointless musings. For instance, yesterday I wondered why sunglasses are cool or chic, or stylish, whereas normal glasses, on the other hand, contribute to a nerdy, dorky, or uncool image? If anyone has an answer other than "I don't know", post it in the comments.

Monday, November 13, 2006

To complement my post from yesterday, here is a great picture of Lincoln during a Nebraska football game.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thee of little

Last night, I was listening to American football over the internet. Nebraska was playing Texas A&M, one of the bigger games of the season. Early during the game, everything seemed to be going Nebraska's way. They were dominant in the first half with an efficient offense and stifling defense, and consequently they had a comfortable lead at halftime. Naturally, I was feeling pretty good about the game's direction. I should have known better. Nebraska, at least in the eyes of pessimistic Nebraskans, has been quite prone to choking away big games in the second half. As my mother, a life-long Nebraska resident, says 'they'll break your heart'. I guess this means don't get too invested in the game, lest you end crying when Nebraska blows it. My scientific, rationale side would actually like to know if Nebraska actually gives away games more than other teams; seems like there has to be some statistics which could either validate or invalidate this idea that the Nebraska football team is historically adept at self-destruction. The sports fan in me (far less rationale than the scientific-me) though knows this is the case, no statistics needed. Nebraska has just dissapointed me so many times through the years...and they were well on their way to doing it last night as well. Nebraska played a dismal second half letting Texas A&M come back and eventually take the lead. It was hard to listen to. When Nebraska turned the ball over with less than 3 minutes to play, I dismissed the game as over, turned it off, and crawled into bed dissapointed. I thought to myself "damn, that's the second time in 3 weeks that Nebraska blew a game they should have won". Turns out, I should have had more faith in the Huskers. Nebraska scored a touchdown late in the final seconds of the game and ended up winning. Amazing! Though I was happily surprised this morning, I kinda felt bad about turning off the game and metaphorically giving up on Nebraska. Shouldn't quit on the Huskers so easily...after all, historical trends don't always provide perfect future predictions. So, in the case of Nebraska football, heartbreak may be likely, but it isn't guaranteed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Here is an interesting article on misappropriated money in Iraq. At least someone is doing alright there...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doppel Blog Tag! (Double blog day rhymes in German...sweet)

Ok, it is only kinda a double blog day. I started the previous post a few day ago, but only finished it today. Anyways two new posts available for viewing today...if anyone is still reading this given the inactivity of the blog of late. What could inspire the second post in a day? A change in the political landscape in my homeland, that's what! The democratic party won an election for the first time in over a decade. Democrats now have control over the house of representatives and they may get control over the senate too. As I write, the final deciding senate race is too close to call, but whichever party wins it will be in control. Polls have predicted this victory for several weeks, but there is something satisfying about actually seeing it come to fruition. The past 6 years, the Bush administration, mostly with its confrontational and divise do-as-we-say foreign policy, has done all it can to damage the image of Americans. While abroad, I've experienced the negative sentiments towards Americans from time to time. In a somewhat selfish sense, I hope that with today's shift in political power anti-Americanism will decrease, and I won't have to experience that uncomfortable awkwardness associated with my nationality nearly as frequently. Moreover, I hope, though don't genuinely expect, that America will return to being a more progressive place in which documents like the Constitution and Geneva Convention are actually recognized and adhered to. Only time will tell. Yep, election night 2006 was pretty satisfying; let's all hope that election night 2008 will bring similar good news.

Friday, November 03, 2006

My first post from Germany is about actually getting here. The weather in Finland on Tuesday the 31st, my departure date, was atrocious. My flight was delayed about 4 hours, and I basically had nothing to do during that time. I stupidly did not bring along enough good literature, so I was quite bored. In desperation I put pen to paper and tried writing something. Here's what came out, word for word:

Here I am at Tampere airport. My much awaited and much anticipated departure from Finland is gonna be delayed awhile. This Halloween in central Finland brings a winter know, snow blowing sideways. Because of boredom, frustration, aggravation, exhaustion, etc., I'm writing this to keep my mind busy and distracted; perhaps a good strategy to retain my sanity. It has been 2 years since my last big move, which was from Nebraska to Jyväskylä. I've avoided and to some extent forgotten what a pain it is. Though I foggily recall how anxious my arrival in Helsinki was and how stressful the final leg to JKL was. Enough of those ill memories lingered to remind me that today was not gonna be fun. Problems started early. While finishing packing and cleaning, Ines alerted me to my mis-interpretation of Ryanair's baggage allowance. While I thought I was allotted 20 kg/bag, in fact it was 20 kg/traveler. Needless to say, this cost me. The anxiety followed me throughout the day; the next source was a realization, i.e. I realized I forgot something. Specifically, I forgot to get Rico's bike key back to him. Sorry man. The train ride to Tampere went smoothly; train was only a few minutes late. The train stop initiated my mad dash, heavy bags in tow, to the Ryanair bus. I made it with just over a minute to spare, a minute I used to gather myself, catch my breath, and stop shaking. At this point I was feeling pretty good, like the hardest part of moving was behind me. Despite the exhaustion, a culmination of the day's travels and the taxing week leading up to today, I was feeling ok as I boarded the plane. On the plane I was even lucky enough to get an exit row seat, a seat I was glued to for the next hour plus. During that time, the plan didn't budge. According to the pilot, there was a lot of de-icing to do. Meanwhile, the weather went from bad to worse. Eventually, given the extremely low visibility, they moved all passengers back to the terminal. That was about 45 minutes ago. So here I write. There hasn't been much progress since departing the plane, and the weather doesn't seem to be improving. Essentially, no one knows what is gonna happen; whether we'll ever get off the ground to fly towards more balmy latitudes. One bad omen: when we the passengers were escorted back into the terminal, most people immediately began reading over the terms for flight cancellation compensation. I'm still hoping it doesn't come to that. Ok, I feel that I've thoroughly detailed the situation up to the present (I feel like I'm writing a description essay like the kind we had to do in high school English class), so I'll move on to something else.

Ok, that's it, that's all I wrote. If you need some closure on this story, here's how it ended. The flight eventually did take off (people clapped when it got off the ground, which I thought was premature...first time I've experienced that in any case) and make it safely to Frankfurt. The scene at the airport wasn't as romantic as you might expect. Ines wasn't waiting outside the gate; she was getting us a hotel room. That's ok, we were both too exhausted to be romantic.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween, I'm leaving today

These are my last hours in JKL....well, not forever, but as a resident. As I was told last night at the Rock (Happy) Hour in Sohwi, I'll be back, but as a guest. Until then JKL...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Still learning

Ok, I’ve been in Finland for over 2 years; I should more or less know all the quirky things about the culture, right? Wrong. I came across this article the other day on an unusual Finnish practice. Finland is the only country in the world to broadcast news in Latin. Yeah, the dead language of the Roman Empire. I don’t really understand the motivation behind this, besides simple eccentricity, but apparently quite a few people listen to it. Somewhat humorously, more people subscribe to the EU presidency newsletter (Finland is currently heading the EU for those who don’t know) in Latin than in French. I had no idea that an appreciable number of people outside of academia could understand Latin. What use does such a skill have besides translating ancient texts and understanding word origins? At least in Finland, you can also be informed about current events.

Speaking of current events…only two weeks until the elections in the states. Polls suggest that Democrats may re-take both houses of Congress. Woohoo! This is absolutely unprecedented (historians correct me) given that the American economy is pretty strong, i.e. the party in power usually stays in power during good economic times. Maybe my country is finally turning a political corner. On the other hand, I read somewhere that the ruling party is often kicked out during mid-term (non-presidential) elections, regardless of the prevailing economic/political situation. To me, this suggests that people are never truly satisfied with their government, which makes sense to my cynical mind. People are rarely happy with their situation; they always want something better. Then again, maybe I’m over-generalizing…

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

One week from now I’ll be on my way to Germany! That’s right, only one week left in Jyväskylä. I gotta say, I’m excited and I’m ready, though on the other hand Jyväskylä and Finland in general has been pretty good to me. How’s my day to day life gonna change? I wish I knew, but I can put forth a few certainties. Like now, I will still spend a considerable amount of time staring at the computer, analyzing data over and over again, attempting to write interesting, publishable scientific papers. However, I won’t have any experimental distractions like I’ve had while in Jyväskylä the past two years. That is, I can’t leave the computer to go and do some small, quick, or easy experiments (all those adjectives only apply in my mind; few experiments are truly quick and easy). Instead, I’ll be chained to the computer, stuck writing about the experiments I’ve already done…time to get rid of that data. I also assume that I’ll spend quite a lot of time developing quasi-brilliant ideas to test in the near future, like I do now. On the other hand, I’ll probably take some time away from that task to try my hand at learning German. Language isn’t my strong suit (it’s science if you haven’t noticed), but I gotta give it a try. Everyone wish me luck…on both the move and the language thing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My parents visited me this weekend. Thus I had to think of a cultural programme that could entertain the three of us. And it actually worked better than I thought. On friday we watched Sönke Wortmann´s football...I mean soccer movie "Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen". One day later we went to the theatre and saw the piece "Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf?". My mum said, she hadn´t ever done so much cultural stuff:) And I made my world-renown sushi (see pic on the left). My mum thanked me with a cake (see pic right). Rock´n´Roll. For those who don´t know my parents, see pic on the left.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Anyone interested in zoology should check this out. It is a blog post on sea spiders, a strange and rare group of invertebrates. Recent research suggests that they may be relatives of some of the more bizarre Cambrian arthropods. Pretty wild! In my invert zoo class at UNL, we got a shipment of marine animals from the Pacific Ocean. For about 3o seconds we thought we had found a sea spider...our excitement subsided when we realized it was just a normal spider that had drowned in the salt water.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


As I was going to the lab this morning, I noticed a pleasant, white frost coating cars, grass, and most anything else. Last night, the temperature must have been at or below zero (call me captain obvious). This may not have been the first frost of the year (I'm not terribly observant), but it was the first that I noticed. For some reason, this is somehow a magical event in my least the first time I notice it. Growing up, I always eagerly awaited the first frost. I suffered from hay fever every autumn in Nebraska, and I looked forward to a good, hard frost killing the many plants responsible for my misery. Fortunately, I haven't had the same symptoms in Finland, so the changing weather doesn't really benefit me by ending my seasonal allergies. Nonetheless, I still think the first frost is somehow magical. The air feels fresh and crisp as you breath it in, and the visible cloud you exhale reminds you that things are changing whether or not you want them to. Magical or not, the frost struck me enough to post about it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I watched the movie ‘Dogville’, directed by Lars von Trier, last night. Ines and I tried to watch this movie together about 2 years ago. If I remember right, we watched about 10 minutes and decided that it was either too slow, or dramatic, or boring, or something, so we stopped watching it. Last night, I actually managed to get through the whole 3 hour movie. And what a movie it was; it has been quite a long time since I’ve seen such a powerful film. It was about as far from a feel-good movie as imaginable, typical for von Trier. A major theme was the ease with which human corruptibility, greed, and exploitation arises when given an opportunity. Furthermore, the movie points out how oblivious people can be to these negative aspects of human nature, both within themselves and their friends and family. Exacerbating the movie’s bleak message was the manner in which in was filmed. There were no sets, only a black stage with white chalk drawings on the ground and a sparse scattering of furniture. This artistically risky approach provides few distractions from the rather depressing events transpiring on screen. Like I said, very powerful. After watching the film, I checked what critics had to say about it at Very mixed reviews. Some people loved the artistry and originality in the movie, while other found it pretentious, boring, and/or excessively long. Apparently, many people were not affected by the movie to the same degree that I was. Thus, all I can suggest is to see it when in the mood for a dramatic, provocative movie and make up your own mind.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Update time...About a week and a half ago, I decided to try living on 2 meals a day. Basically, I wanted to know how my body reacts to a lunchless life. As I expected, after just a couple days I stopped getting hungry at a normal lunch time. Instead of being hungry around 12, I got hungry around 3 or 4. This was convenient in some ways...I was able to work most of the day without being distracted by hunger and I didn't have the normal desire to take a post-lunch nap. On the other hand, by 4 or 5 I would be really hungry; so hungry that all I wanted was to go home and eat. And most days this is exactly what I did. Eating "dinner" so early also had consequences for my daily schedule. First of all, I would have at least an extra hour to do something else in the evening (which I usually wasted anyways). Second, I was hungry again at 9 or 10. As far as I can tell, I have not gained or lost any weight during this little experiment. So what can I conclude from this? I guess I would have to conclude that lunch exists for a reason. If it didn't everybody would be leaving work at 3, or they'd just be (more) irritable and (more) unproductive in the late afternoon.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Finally I´ve found some time to write a new post. Actually, I haven´t had anything interesting to write in the last few weeks. But here´s something which got me excited:))

Yesterday Luki visited me on his way back to Berlin. We went to have sushi and afterwards we made badges with my new badge-it-machine:) I bought it in Leipzig in a toy store. Well, it´s actually a children´s toy. Now I can make buttons of all my favourite bands, sayings, pictures, friends, things,... It only takes a few seconds per badge.
Thus if anyone of you want a special button: I accept orders.

Ok, that was my story about the badge machine. I´m watching a show on TV about a guy from Nebraska who weighs 1000 pounds. That sounds impossible. They had to tear down a wall to carry him out of his house. I can´t tell more about him because I have to change the channel.


I thought this cartoon was hilarious…non sequitar usually is. I think I’m going to put Dana’s sentiments into the cover letter for my next manuscript.

Dear Mr. or Mrs. Editor,
Please find enclosed a manuscript on such and such. While considering this work for publication, I would like to remind you that questioning the details is unpatriotic and only serves to aid the terrorists.

Now what editor could possible argue with that logic? If only it worked like this…

p.s. Three weeks til Germany!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Stupid time zones

As I have previously posted, I absolutely miss college (American) football. In Nebraska, cooler weather means that it is time for football, and people (including me to some degree) get crazy about it. By now, the season is nearing its mid-point, and the Huskers (University of Nebraska’s nickname) are playing pretty well, at least compared to past seasons. For the third consecutive year, after going to every home game for 4 years, I haven’t been able to watch the Nebraska team. However, I typically try to listen to the games over the internet with streaming audio. It isn’t the same, but it is still better than nothing. Usually, Nebraska is playing at 11:30 in the morning or 2:30 in the afternoon local time, which is 7:30 or 10:30 at night Finnish time. I can easily stay awake to listen to these games. However, the last two weeks Nebraska has been playing under the lights, which for me means the game is starting around 3 in morning. Generally, I don’t stay up that late unless I’ve been drinking. Thus, in one sense, doing a bit of partying on Saturday night is a good idea; it will keep me awake so I can listen to the game. As it happens, both of the past Saturdays, I was still up at 3 to hear the start of the game. Unfortunately, I was also slightly intoxicated both times, so I was sleepy, and both weeks I fell asleep before halftime. Oh well, I guess I just need to accept that the time zones have defeated me.

This has been a very pointless post. I’ll try to add some more weight to it by telling everyone to check out The Decemberists. Ines and I both like them, so you know it’s gotta be good.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Brain chemistry and scientific humor

For a few hours today, the sun was out. This was the first time I’ve seen the sun in at least a week. The Finnish fall can be incredibly and incessantly gray. I’m not necessarily complaining about the weather (maybe a little), but I was just struck today by how surprised I was to see the sun. Though I’m not 100% certain, I believe that sunlight (or lack thereof) indirectly affects brain chemistry. That’s likely part of the reason why our moods vary along with the weather. As I was consciously pondering the chemicals in my brain, it started to rain again. Oh well, it was still nice to be teased with a bit of sunlight.

Onto a more interesting topic: Science has a sense of humor! That’s right, science can do more than confuse the general public and provide a livelihood for nerds. It can also make us laugh. To support this claim, I refer you to the Ig Nobel prizes. These awards are given out annually to researchers that have done improbable research that “makes people laugh and then think”. I look forward to these every year because there is always some bit of research that is strange, perhaps pointless, yet nearly always interesting. I think my favorite piece of research among this year’s winners is the peace prize. Someone invented a device that creates a high-pitched, annoying noise which is audible to teenagers, but not adults. Apparently, shop-owners can use it to drive away loitering, bored teens. I also like the work on dung beetle feeding preferences; that research must have been tough on the nose. There have been some classic Ig Nobel prizes in the past too. My all time favorite was a study that found a link between country music and suicide rates, though a study which found a particular fish species that communicates by farting is a close runner-up. Of course, after you finish chuckling about these awards, you have to wonder why people did this research. I would imagine that much of this work was accidental. For example, if recall correctly, the fish-farting study originated when aquarium workers heard strange noises when they turned the lights off. However, much of this work is obviously planned. People set out to answer these improbable questions (e.g. how many pictures you must take to ensure no one in a group is blinking). I think that humans are naturally curious and we want to know how everything works. Even if we aren’t curious about some particular topic (e.g. why spaghetti breaks into more than two pieces) we expect that someone else is. Consequently, when people come to academics with the most absurd questions (e.g. do woodpeckers get headaches?) they still expect some kind of answer...and ‘no one knows’ is never a satisfying answer.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Try Something New

Change is good. At least that's the expression. Eventually, we get bored with some aspect of our day to day lives and we want to try something new. So, from this introduction, I am obviously in the mood to try something new. What exactly? Well, for reasons that are not clear even to me, I'm going to attempt to change my eating habits. The past two days I haven't had time to eat lunch, and amazingly I haven't starved to death. So I wondered, could I completely re-invent the way I eat? Could I stop eating lunch entirely, and train my body to adjust to a new feeding schedule? Here is my crazy experimental plan. For the next 1-2 weeks, I will only have two meals a day. For the first meal, I'll have my typical breakfast. The second meal will be around 5 or 6 when I come home from work, and, essentially, I'll eat as much as want. There are few things I want to figure out from this "experiment". First, I want to know if I can actually change my habits. Second, I want to know if my body can adjust and I actually stop getting hungry around lunch-time. Third, I would like to see if I lose or gain any weight (doubt it, but we'll see). Finally, I want to finish all the rice, pasta, and other food in my flat before moving at the end of the month.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Title Trouble

Ok, which of these 2 titles sounds more pretentious?
(1) Proximate factors affecting the larval life history of Acanthocephalus lucii (Acanthocephala): interactions among resources availability, competition, and ontogeny, or (2) Determinants of infection intensity and larval infrapopulation dynamics of Acanthocephalus lucii (Acanthocephala). Any opinions?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mission accomplished…time to hurry down

Two weeks ago I had a manuscript accepted for publication (good news). However, manuscripts are never accepted outright; they always require some degree of revision before they can be published. As expected, this manuscript required a fair amount of revision. Unfortunately for me, the editor only gave me two weeks to make the revisions (bad news). To complicate things, I was at the university’s field station for the entire first week I had to revise the manuscript. For all intents and purposes, I’ve basically had the past three days to perform all the necessary revisions. All told, the revisions took about 24 hrs of work. Whew, it’s been hectic. But mere hours ago, I completed the revisions and re-submitted the paper. Mission accomplished. Now it is time to hurry down….Huh? hurry down? Yeah, a consortium of my friends has decided it is time to introduce the term ‘hurry down’ into the English language. Basically it means the exact opposite of the phrase ‘hurry up’. If you need to go from being busy to being relaxed, then you need to hurry down. I can’t claim to be the originator of this phrase. It was coined by another Daniel, from Spain. But the underlying concept can be used to twisting phrases to create new meanings, e.g. chill in, hang in, etc. Post any good ones you can come up with in the comments.

Friday, September 29, 2006

King of Confusion

It is difficult to explain something complicated. Everyone probably has some kind of personal experience corroborating this. How can you take some piece of knowledge and move it from your brain into the brain of someone else? It may be so clear in your own head, something that you've understood for so long, that it is really difficult for you to remember what it is like to have no comprehension of the issues, concepts, ideas, whatever. This is essentially what makes teaching so difficult. Where am I going with this and how does the title relate to my point? Well, I had a meeting today with a Master's student I am supervising. He basically has all his data, but he just needs to analyze it. It is thus my job to guide him through the data analyses, i.e. statistics. Stats is the thorn in every grad student's side. Statistical analyses are rarely easy, often maddening, and always necessary. I'm no expert, but over the last few years I've learned enough to get by. My task was to transfer my understanding of the relevant statistics into this poor lad's head. The task was all the more difficult becausey I didn't know exactly how to deal with this data (yeah I'm a great supervisor I know). Essentially, I had to learn and/or invent some new approaches to analyze this data. I spent the whole afternoon/evening yesterday doing that in preparation for the meeting with the student this morning. When I experience some success in tackling a tough problem, I get excited because I feel like I'm approaching a satisfying solution, giving me a renewed sense of self-worth. This was the case yesterday afternoon. I got excited about learning these new methods and figuring out how to analyze this guy's data. My excitement carried over into the meeting this morning; I was eager to share my new ideas. And I definitely did. I regurgitated my freshly acquired knowledge all over this poor Master's student in a jumbled, disorganized, and generally incomprehensible manner...for nearly two hours. In some ways I did my job as supervisor. I spent a lot of time learning some new techniques and then shared this information with the student. Unfortunately, I did it in a very confusing manner (luckily I'm not giving lectures yet). So, for today, I am deeming myself the king of confusion...mostly because I confused someone other than myself for a change.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Nature's Freak Show

First of all, I don't know if I can provide a post that is worthy of that title, but I did have quite a mind-blowing experience today. For the past week, I have been working at the university's field station, Konnevesi, about an hour outside of Jyväskylä. It is not the most exciting place; basically all there is to do is work. Every once in a while, though, work can provide some surprises. Today, I was measuring some worms from an experiment done yesterday. This is usually very tedious, repetitive work. Definitely not interesting. However, I came across one male worm, coded 8.51, that was most definitely interesting...because it had no head. Ok, that might not shock y'all, but it sure knocked me out of my seat. I've looked at hundreds, maybe thousands, of these worms and never, ever seen anything like this. I'm studying a group of parasites called, in the vernacular, thorny-headed worms. As the name suggests, these animals have a proboscis that is studded with spikes. This "freak" worm didn't have a probscis; it just wasn't there. However, everything else was more or less normal. Highly abnormal individuals of any species are very rare because they probably die very young. Nature is too harsh for those with crippling developmental abnormalities. This worm, however, developed to what might be approximated as adolecence. Amazing. It wouldn't have made it to adulthood, though, because it wouldn't be able to attach to the host's intestine. I wonder how common such abnormalities are...1 in a 1000, 1 in 100,000. It's anyone's guess. No matter what the odds are, I doubt I'll ever see anything like it again.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Where did September go?

First and foremost, the blog is not dead. It did experience a bit of a hiatus though. The reason is that Ines and I were enjoying each other's company in lovely Finland. I think I can speak for both of us and say that we were in "holiday mode"...and blogging isn't much of a holiday activity. However, it can make for good blogging subject matter. At least it might make our friends a bit jealous and/or motivate them to visit Finland. Hmmm, now what should I say about the last 2 weeks? I'll start with an easy topic, the weather. For the first week Ines was visiting, her cousin Alex was with us. Alex got to experience Finland at its most depressing: cold, gray, and rainy. Ok, there were one or two days the sun made an appearence, but it did seem like fall came suddenly and coincidentally with the visit of Ines and Alex. However, after Alex left, when it was just Ines and I, the weather was much, much better. It was warm enough to be walking around in just a t-shirt. Not gonna be many more days like that this year. Enough small talk about Finnish weather and on to some bigger news. Ines and I celebrated 2 years together on the 16th. Wild huh? We planned to have a romantic day and evening together, and we accomplished that goal. However, there was one funny anecdote I'd like to share. As we were walking in the city center, we passed a Rax Pizza Buffet (all-you-can-eat pizza place). I commented on how delicious the pizza smelled, and Ines responded by asking if we should eat there in the evening. I replied by saying that a buffet isn't romantic because I always try to eat as much as I possibly can. Stuffing one's face just isn't romantic. Later in the evening, we decided to go to a Chinese restaurant...that's kinda romantic, right? Well, it must have been fate because they happened to have a buffet. I just couldn't help myself; I ordered the buffet. Thus, I have to admit that I took some of the romance out of the evening by taking the buffet, but I managed to limit myself to only 3 plates. I was full but not puking full. So is there a lesson in this story? Probably not, but I'll espouse one anyways. Here goes: romance can be dampened but not killed by too much Chinese food. Not such a useful lesson I guess. Maybe the lesson is that I need to stop being tempted by the concept of "all-you-can-eat".

Now I (Ines) feel like I also have to provide a food story. Because my cousin and I were lucky with food in Finland. The day we arrived we had to wait in Tampere for the train to Jyväskylä. As usual. Thus we went to Hesburger (much better than McDonald´s or Burger King) to eat some delicious Finnish burgers. I ordered the veggie burger but got the one with chicken. Since I don´t eat meat I had to complain (sorry, Hesburger staff). And what did we get for complaining? Free ice cream! And a week later Alex and me went to the fish market in Jyväskylä and got a salmon dish for half the price. Interesting food experiences. But we didn´t eat all the time. We also drank. And on the boat to Tallinn Dan and me performed "New York, New York" in the Karaoke Bar. I have to admit that we were really bad. Probably because we had some beer, lonkero and Vana Tallin before. Like most of the people on the boat.

In this retrospect on the Finland holiday we mustn´t forget out summer cottage experience with grilling sausages outside in the rain and smoke sauna in the pitch black dark. A bit creepy. I enjoyed Finland and hope that I can go back there soon, even though Dan won´t be living in Jyväskylä anymore. I´m so happy that Dan moves to Germany. Juhu!!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I cleaned the flat today, a rare occurrence, in preparation for Ines and her cousin’s visit. As I was beating the dust out of the rugs, I was reminded of a humorous tale from my past life…that one in Nebraska. When I was but a mere boy, 19 years old, I was entering my second year of college. I had agreed to live with Mr. Ryan Frost who, as it would happen, turned out to be my roommate for 3 of the best years of my life. Anyways, we both spent that summer living at our parent’s homes in Omaha, the last summer we would do that, so by August we were very eager to move back to Lincoln for college. Towards the end of the summer, we spent a lot of time planning how to “pimp” our shared room. Yes, in the dormitories of American universities two or more people share a single room. And yes, it is cramped with a lack of privacy, but most people don’t care because they just moved out of their parent’s house. One item that we purchased together for our room was a huge chunk of black and yellow carpet. Shopping for it was an experience in and of itself. We borrowed my parent’s van and visited various carpet warehouses; it was like we were a newlywed couple. The real experience with this piece of carpet, though, was getting it to our room. Our room was on the 11th floor of a 13 floor building. Unfortunately for us, our hunk of carpet did not fit in the elevator. Thus, we had to drag, push, and yank this damn heavy carpet up 22 flights of stairs (2 per floor). To make things more miserable, if I remember right, the stairwells weren’t air conditioned…and August in Nebraska is damn hot. We probably sweat out a couple kilos just getting the carpet into our room. After getting it there, we had to cut it up so that it fit into our tiny little room. But all the trouble was completely worth it. That was the coolest carpet I’ve ever owned…way cooler than the pink rug I inherited from Ines when she left Finland (though I do like this rug).

In other news, I’m doing an experiment tonight that should last from about 1630 until 0030. It’s crazy…what was I thinking when I planned this. It is like my roommate that watches bird mating behaviour at 4 in the morning during the spring time. Sometimes biology just doesn’t fit into a normal working schedule. Oh well.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just in case you wanted to know what I had for soccer players and balls.

HELP! The world cup is haunting me.

Cold rooms are worse than computers

My brother used to have a cartoon that said “to err is human, but to really screw up requires a computer” (at least that’s how I think it went). Computers have a reputation of crashing at the worse possible times, e.g. after several hours of important work. I’m learning that cold rooms are a bit like this. I’ll elaborate a bit. Cold rooms aren’t usually “rooms” per se, but more like oversized refrigerators; often they’re big enough to walk into. If everything worked like it should, the temperature should be easily adjustable and constant. Right now, I’m trying to do an experiment that requires some animals to be kept at a constant temperature of 10 C…not too demanding for a room that should be able to get much colder. Two days into the 2 week long experiment the temp in the “cold room” had shot up to 20. Wonderful. The fans responsible for moderating the temperature had iced up and stopped working, so I had to stop the experiment and allow everything to defrost. After the ice melted, the room seemed to be working better, so I was confident about trying the experiment again. But again, after a couple days at 10 degrees the fans started to ice up. Malfunctions like this always seem to happen when you are trying to do an important experiment, and they are responsible for substantial stress. These problems have forced me to totally redesign my experiments on the fly, which is not very easy to do. When experimental design is rushed, something might be overlooked resulting in some disastrous mistake that undermines all you’re trying to accomplish. Fear of wasting time, energy, and opportunities is giving me plenty of reason to be stressed. Technology is great; I often need cold rooms for in my work. But I think I’ll hesitate to design another experiment that requires the use of cold rooms…just for my own well-being.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The other day, I bought four CDs for the price of three. (wow:)) I told Dan about my purchases but he wasn´t impressed when I mentioned the artists. Especially he didn´t approve Billy Idol´s Greatest Hits. Why not? I don´t know. Billy Idol is an embodied decade. The 80s. And there´s nothing bad about that. I have to admit that I don´t like his new songs very much. As all the 80s stars, he probably recorded his recent album because money was needed. Anyways, "Dancing with myself", "Rebel yell", "White wedding" or "Hot in the city" are musical milestones he wrote with his congenial guitarist. And I´ve liked what he did with his upper lip. Rock´N´Roll! Btw the other CDs are by Goldfrapp, The Pogues and Richard Ashcroft. Dan doesn´t even know them;)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Looking for treasure in Jyväsjärvi

Everyday I spend about 1-2 hrs in Lake Jyväsjärvi looking for infected isopods. During this glamorous work, which draws baffled stares from most passersby, I have found a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t supposed to be in a lake. Here’s a list of things I can recall from memory: a variety of bones (probably from cows), trash (of course…especially bottles), heavy duty gloves (for ice fishing?), 3 tires, a few tennis balls, uncountable shoes of all different styles, a full bag of carrots, a horse shoe, and a dead dog. I’ll elaborate on some of these. The first time I found a bone (the pic), I was really wondering what it came from. A colleague of mine tells me that there used to be a slaughterhouse a few km upstream of Jyväsjärvi, so I assume the bones must be from cows. Actually, now that I’ve noticed them, I spot these bones all over the lake…I could probably build a cow skeleton if I was so motivated. Not so sure how some of the other stuff gets into the lake, such as the tires, shoes, and food items. I guess people just toss it into the lake for fun. A colleague once found a coconut in the lake. It’s not a native Finnish plant, so I’m guessing someone wanted to test whether coconuts float. The dead dog was and still is really disgusting. When you look at it you want to turn away but you just can’t. I now refer to the area I found it as Dead Dog Bay. I find all this stuff along the shoreline. I can’t even imagine all the stuff that is at the bottom of the lake. The maximum depth of Jyväsjärvi is about 35 m, and, based on my basic understanding of limnology and water currents, I think most of the stuff that goes down there doesn’t come back up. I like to think that there is some really amazing treasure at the bottom of the lake and not just a big pile of rubbish.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Everyone knows the current president of the U.S.A. isn't so smart. However, we have all come to take this fact for granted. Sometimes we need to remember just how much of a moron he is. Check out this article. It points out several good examples, all from the same news conference, demonstrating what a horrendous leader he is.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The evolution of...pop culture?

I swung by the website of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light-hearted take on the intelligent-design vs. evolution fiasco in the U.S. I was reading some of the hate mail, which is entertaining yet absolutely stupifying. People go absolutely bonkers when you even remotely tease their faith. But I don't wanna write about that; this debate is a hot button issue for me considering my chosen career field so I could go on and on. Instead, just go to the website and check out the New York Dolls video that is posted there. Yeah, those punk rockers from the 70s wrote a light-hearted song about evolution called "Dance like a Monkey". The song is catchy and the video is pretty funny. If you like the song, you can download it from the roadrunner records webpage. I reckon (one of Ines' friends thinks the word "reckon" isn't used there you go) that the entrance of the ID vs. evolution debate into the realm of pop culture diminishes its seriousness. At least that's my hope.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Why does the Virgin Mary keep turning up in foods? Some employees at a chocolate factory in California claim that a “statue” of chocolate drippings looks like the Virgin Mary. The article is here. I also remember that recently someone sold some french toast on ebay that apparently had a portrait of Mary fried onto it. In my opinion, these observations seem to raise questions, not so much about faith and religion, but about human psychology. First of all, how can you convince yourself that something looks like the Virgin Mary? Ok, everybody sees weird stuff from time to time, but I have never found any kind of religious symbol, signal, person, etc. in my meals. Even if there was ever something there, I probably wouldn’t notice it before eating it. Second, how can people find such deep significance in such random occurrences? Assume for a minute that this is some kind of sign from the mother of God; what’s the message? Eat more chocolate? Eat less chocolate? Don’t worry, be happy? I’m not anti-religious and I don’t want to attack anyone’s purportedly meaningful encounter with Mary. I just wonder whether people even consider what they are seeing and why? Psychology research seems to suggest that people (everyone whether religious or not) tend to think what they want to, and this extends to our visual perception as well. We have a tendency to see what we want to, without even being conscious of it. This may or may not explain why people seem to find spiritual significance in the strangest of circumstances. Think what you want…I won’t try to stop you.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The pond that tried to eat me

In a previous post, I briefly described one of the field sites (Niemijärvi) from which I collect isopods. There is a small wooden bridge that goes over the pond/swamp and I usually just use a net to collect isopods from the bridge (see pic…not from today). Yesterday, I did just that, but only managed to collect a few isopods. This morning I returned, but with my rubber boots so I could wade into the lake and collect from areas away from the small bridge. Sounds like a good idea, right? Nope. I took one step onto a seemingly dry piece of ground and, next thing I knew, I was up to my knee in mud. In such a situation, your natural reflex is to push hard with the other leg to try and pull yourself out. That’s what I did. Can you guess what happened? Yeah, I was immediately in mud up to both my knees. At that point I stopped to think about how to get out of there without surrendering my boots to the swamp. I leaned back, found a spot to put my hands where they wouldn’t sink, and pulled one leg out. Once it was out and on solid ground, the other leg came out without too much effort. Great way to start the day…covered in mud with little success in collecting more isopods. Tomorrow I won’t leave the bridge.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Physicists are weird

If anyone is interested in a new perspective on reality, check this out. First off, I can’t claim to know enough about physics, current scientific consensus, or quantum mechanics to say whether these ideas have any validity. However, I still think that it is interesting to see the world from different perspectives, regardless of whether or not they’re “right”. Basically, if I understood the cartoon on the website, the idea that we live in 4 dimensions (with time as the 4th) is a considerable oversimplification of reality. Here, I agree with him. Every organism is constrained by their own sensory mechanism, and I believe humans are no different. We can only perceive what we need to…that’s why we can’t smell as well as dogs, see as well as eagles, or hear as well as owls. We must be missing a whole lot of the events transpiring in the universe. I’m getting sidetracked, but the point is we only can comprehend 4 dimensions, because that’s all we need to. The cartoon goes on to explain what the higher dimensions would be like. To be honest, I got a bit lost here. None of these ideas are easily grasped, but the whole conceptual framework seems to draw on observations from quantum physics (the stuff happening at sub-atomic level). A long-existing concept in quantum physics is that some subatomic particles, electrons I believe, cannot really be described as particles. They exist as “waves of probability”. This essentially means that you can guess where in space the particle may be, but you can’t be sure. When you consider every possible spot a particle may be, then you’re considering lines crossing into other dimensions. I don’t really understand how the dimensions are stacked onto one another, but the point is that they are connected. When we get to the tenth dimension, it is composed of an infinite amount of universes with all possible timelines. Then, the superstrings vibrating in that dimension have consequences for all the other dimensions, including the ones we seem to be aware of (i.e. time and space). Weird to even try to comprehend. I wonder where physicists get their ideas, and, more importantly, how they can possibly test some of these ideas. As I said, I can’t say how “correct” this theory is, but I am pretty certain than any accurate explanation of physical reality will be pretty wild. Thanks to Lukas for sending me the website.

I have a new favourite sport. MINIGOLF. After the approx. six weeks of me being a football ...ehm..I mean soccer fan, I needed new sense in my life.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Field Season

I’m studying isopods (pic) and a parasite that uses them as intermediate host. I collect these isopods from two different sites in Jyväskylä. One is Lake Jyväsjärvi and the other is Lake/Pond Niemisjärvi. The parasite isn’t found in Niemisjärvi because the fish definitive host can’t live there; the pond is too small. From Jyväsjärvi, I can collect infected isopods. Around this time of the year, the isopods are small but growing, and they are just starting to get infected with parasites. For my research, I need to collect infected individuals. This is far more difficult than you’d expect. From the number of worms you find in fish, you would think that there must be thousands of infected isopods. While this is probably true, they are not so easy to find amongst the hundreds of thousands of uninfected isopods in the lake. Today I probably looked at 300-400 isopods from Jyväsjärvi, and none were infected. Wasted hours? It sure feels like it. The other frustrating thing is that the isopods aren’t big enough yet. I visited Niemisjärvi today for the first time in about a year, and the isopods are there, but they’re tiny. A colleague and I are planning to do an experimental infection of isopods (i.e. give uninfected isopods parasite eggs to eat), but we know that the small, juveniles don’t get infected. Thus, we just have to wait for the isopods from the lakes to grow. We have to hope for warm weather, because animals grow faster at higher temps (there’s a limit, of course, and the rule doesn’t apply to endotherms [birds and mammals]). Also, if it is warmer, the isopods will eat more and probably get infected more frequently. Let’s hope, for the sake of my sanity, that Nature cooperates. Unfortunately, Nature rarely fits a predictable schedule. If it did, my life would be too easy. This is also why ecology is much more difficult than, say, molecular biology. Anyways, it seems like these little creatures are gonna cause me a lot of stress over the next 2 months.


Friday, August 11, 2006

First of all, I have to say that I’m addicted to the internet. The internet was down in my flat for about a day and a half, and I was just lost. I couldn’t talk to Ines on the internet phone. I couldn’t read the news. I couldn’t send files between my work and home computer. I couldn’t download anything. I couldn’t blog! It was kinda scary. I need to stock up on some decent literature for the next internet loss.

Since my internet was gone, I haven’t been thinking of anything clever to write on the blog, so I’ll just talk about some miscellaneous stuff. First, something about parasites (surprise). I was dissecting fish this week to collect some worms. Here’s an interesting thing about parasites: they are nearly always aggregated to some degree. That means that most of the parasites are found in just a few hosts. To illustrate, this series of numbers represents the numbers of parasites taken from individual hosts: 0, 0, 1, 0, 2, 0, 1, 0, 50, 1, 0, 7, 0, 18, 0, 2, 0, etc. See how most of the parasites are in just a couple hosts? It kinda makes opening fish up like a treasure hunt. Did we catch that fish with 100 worms? The one that was eating the wrong critters and/or has a bad immune system? Parasites that infect humans have the same distributional pattern….just in case you were wondering. I feel like I should spend more time outlining and explaining the negative binomial distribution of parasites, but I don’t want anyone to fall asleep before the next topic (there is always time for other blog posts about parasites).

Second topic is rock n roll (Homer: I’ve finally tapped into that spirit of self-destruction that makes rock n roll the king of musics.). I checked out a band called “The Bronx” today because thePRP gave them a good review. It reminds me a bit of Refused, a modern fusion of punk and more straightforward rock. Also, The Blood Brothers have a few new songs up on myspace that are awesome. If you don’t know The Blood Brothers, maybe you should pass on this…they are an acquired taste. On the other hand, their new songs are bit tamer and more focused than their older stuff, so, what the hell, everyone just check it out. Yet another band that should be checked out is Dresden Dolls. They released a new album a while back, and the few songs I’ve heard from it are pretty cool. Not my usual style, but sometimes you have to try new things. Ok, I’ll stop dropping band names…after all, I’m not the rock expert on this blog.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Adorable, yet vicious

Be warned, some evolutionary rambling will follow! Meerkats are those cute little desert mammals that were made famous by the Lion King movies. Remember…the meerkat and the warthog were buddies. I don’t remember their names, though I do remember they sang Hakuna Matata (no worries for the rest of your days). Anyways, real life meerkats are really interesting creatures. They live in small social groups, and they cooperate together in various ways, e.g. adult group members will teach young meerkats how to capture scorpions by disabling the scorpion first and biting off its stinger. Cooperative behaviour has always been considered a challenge for evolutionary theory. After all, if your primary goal is pass on your genes, why spend time being altruistic? This problem has been considered by many biologists (including Darwin himself), and a variety of non-exclusive solutions (e.g. kin selection, reciprocal altruism, multilevel selection) have been proposed, tested, and supported to various degrees. So why are meerkats so nice to each other? First of all, there are usually altruistic towards close relatives (kin selection), and second the group’s continued existence seems to depend on cooperation (multilevel selection). That’s all fine and good, but it turns out that these critters have a darker side too (I’ve always enjoyed the more cruel and twisted aspects of nature, because it undermines many people’s preconceived ideas about how the world “should” be…probably why I’m fascinated with parasites). During the breeding season, pregnant meerkats will actively try to kill any other pups, so that their own pups will receive all of the benefits of the group child-rearing, i.e. more time can be spent on your kid when there are fewer babies to raise. Furthermore, when the dominant female gets pregnant, she will chase and harass other females so much that their stress levels prevent them from becoming pregnant. Seems like females aren’t so cooperative when it comes to deciding who’s gonna reproduce. Hakuna matata? Not when you’re a subordinate female keen on starting a family.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

The American’s opinion of Football/Soccer

This is a post Ines and I have planned for awhile, but we just never got around to writing it. It seems like an appropriate time though, because the World Cup just ended and the American Football season is only a few months away. Before I start talking about soccer (I’ll use the word soccer to avoid confusion, not because it is the “right” word for the sport), I must admit something. I love American Football. There I said it. If that makes me barbaric or uncivilized in anyone’s eyes, so be it. In Nebraska, people are wild about football, and I was raised in this tradition. That’s why I was happy to see Nebraska ranked in the preseason top 25 (barely)…go Cornhuskers! Onto the topic of soccer…In the U.S., soccer is the most played sport by children, hence the term “soccer moms”. So why isn’t it more popular? As kids get older, social/peer/parental pressures (not sure if that is the right word) encourage people to stop playing soccer and instead play more popular sports like basketball or football. I don’t really know why that is. Americans have no reason to dislike soccer. Sure it isn’t a full contact sport like hockey, but it does take considerable skill and athletic ability (far more than baseball for example). For whatever reason, though, the reputation of soccer as a “wimpy” sport probably is not gonna change anytime soon (it would help if players weren’t always faking injuries…that’s really annoying). My sister gave me an article that pondered the possibility that the football-soccer divide is just another case of American exclusionism. Probably true. Americans always like to be different, e.g. not using the metric system. Personally, this year’s World Cup helped me learn to appreciate soccer. I don’t know if I’ll ever be passionate about the sport, but I can definitely watch it now and not be bored. That’s a first step. And to end, a Simpson’s quote…TV advertising soccer game: “It’s all here! Fast-kicking, low-scoring, and ties, you betcha!”

I´m sorry, I can´t provide a Simpson´s quote to start my story for reflection about soccer/football. But I can say that I, as a German, would never say I LOVE a sport. Even German men say that they like football (in this case soccer) very much, but they wouldn´t use the word "love" ("lieben"). It´s a very strong expression in German, some don´t even use for their partners. Obviously this doesn´t hold true for Americans. Dan loves football (the American version). I´ve made fun of the football-soccer divide since I´ve known him. Everytime I talk about football (British) I "translate" it into the American language. Since the World Cup not only Dan has started to appreciate European football, but also many German women did. And not only because of the good looking German players (well, maybe that was the only reason for some, who knows). I found myself cheering for the German team everytime they played, I had a scarf that said "Deutschland" on it and I even carried a small black-red-golden flag in the trunk of my car (no one saw it though). Before the World Cup, I couldn´t have ever imagined showing so much patriotism. Well, fortunately, it´s over now.
This post should be about American football as well: When we visit the US last Christmas, we watched a Cornhusker game in a sports bar. Dan and me were wearing red sweat shirts (partner look- ridiculous). And I had also bought a red cornhat. I tried to be a "real" Cornhusker fan. I have to admit, it didn´t work well. I don´t understand the rules of the game- though Dan has tried to explainthem to me many times and I even attended a presentation he gave on football. Furthermore, a bunch of red dressed people cheering for players, who play a very brutal looking, not very gracile sport, make me suspicious. Hence, I´ll never be a real football fan. Be it the European or the Amercian version.
But I can see one similarity between the sports, the intellectual ability of American football players enjoys the same reputation in the States (as far as I know from the teen movies:)) as the brainpower of soccer players in Germany.

Yo quiero Taco Bell

Everyone knows that when you come home from the bars after having a few beers, you have to eat something. It is just one of those side-effects of alcohol. But what is the best “drunk food”? Well, last night I decided that it surely isn’t crackers with cheese and pickle relish. Thinking ahead, even after a few drinks, I thought to take a picture of this creation. Looks good, doesn’t it? It ‘passes’ as acceptable drunk food (what doesn’t?), but it is far from being the best. The best drunk food is always greasy. Here in Finland that means a trip to the Grilli or Hesburger where you can get burgers, fries, sausages and about anything else that is deep-fat fried. In Germany, drunk food is often döner kebab, which is soooo good late at night. But back in America, we get our greasy drunk food at Taco Bell (at least in Nebraska). I don’t know if Taco Bell can really be considered Mexican food. Think of what it would be like if Mexican cuisine sold its soul to Ronald McDonald, and you’d be getting close. There were always horror stories about what someone, somewhere found in their bean burrito or where the meat is actually coming from (carne de burro was my favorite theory). Though the food was terrible for you and your digestive system, after some beers the craving always came. Yo quiero Taco Bell! (that phrase is probably trademarked, so nobody tell the company about this blog) My old roommate, Frosty, and I would often ‘run to the border’ (another advertising slogan of TB) after a good party. Our favorite food was the Grande Meal, a mix and match combination of bean burritos, soft tacos, and hard tacos (10 total) with nachos on the side, for about 10 bucks. Yeah, it was grande, and we always reveled in devouring all that greasy goodness. The next day, we always had a bit of a stomach ache to go along with our hangover. We never learned our lesson though. We kept going to Taco Bell when intoxicated for 3 years (even the gentle cajoling of Gill, Frosty’s wife now, never dissuaded us from eating too many tacos). Such is the power of alcohol and its ability to impair judgment.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Besides the fact that Noah didn´t have to sort out any parasites because they probably survived in fish intestines in the water (Dan you should really know that), I don´t wanna talk about parasites or any biblical fairy tales in this post.
Since Dan has written so many post in the meantime, I feel the pressure to write something about Rock´N Roll. But I have a good reason not to post so much: After ten hours of journalistic work, I´m out of words. Does anyone else know that feeling? Being creative is a job for me now and doesn´t come easy at home in my freetime.

Today I was watching "Charmed" on TV. In the opening sequence, the good looking witch sisters were sitting in a car eating red liquorice. You can think about the series whatever you want, but they have an efficient product placement. All I´ve wanted during one hour of the show was red liquorice. The craving didn´t go away. So I went to the store. Of course they didn´t have any red liquorice. Therefore I bought something else chewy, mentos and green spaghettis...lots of it. When I came home with all my purchases, I´ve noticed how much TV (not only commercials) influences my shopping habits and my whole life. Anyways, speaking of spaghetti. If someone of you is following the debate about evolution and intelligent design, please keep the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in mind and check out. I´m thinking about converting...

Friday, August 04, 2006

Science marches on...

My first experiences with parasites and research involved a species that went by the moniker Corynosoma constrictum (see pic). The adult worms live in the intestines of ducks, but at Nebraska I was studying the parasite in its intermediate host (the critter which gets eaten by ducks), an amphipod. Though the parasite was never really easy to work with, and thus it drove me a little insane every now and then, I was quite fond of the creatures by the end of my tenure at the University of Nebraska. As any biologist would probably tell you, you grow to respect and admire the species that you study. They attain somekind of personal significance for you (don't ask me why though). Well, in an interesting twist of fate, Corynosoma constrictum no longer exists. No, it wasn't a victim of global warming or pollution. It didn't go extinct, it has just been renamed. A new paper in the Journal of Parasitology has called for the genus Corynosoma to be split into two new genera. One group of species will retain the name Corynosoma (species from marine hosts like seals) and the other group will now be known as Pseudocorynosoma (species from freshwater hosts, like ducks). The species that received my research attention for nearly two years, thus, is now named Pseudocorynosoma constrictum. Yeah, I must admit it's a little sad, but even when I studied the parasite I had a feeling that the taxonomy was wrong. Thus, I'm glad that someone has turned their attention to these parasites and are "fixing" their systematic affiliations. It isn't glamorous biology, but it is necessary and rather difficult. As one of my old previous professor's used to say, a fundamental question in biology is "what is it?" Seems so simple, but the answer to that question is complex and always changing. Keeps science interesting though...


p.s. While I'm on the topic of parasite taxonomy...I wonder how Noah sorted out the parasites on his big boat. Were all the free-living, recognizable animals infected with all the species of parasites (every animal species in the world harbours multiple parasite species)? Seems like a lot of extra work to make sure that the two individuals of each species also were loaded with parasites. Biological taxonomy is something we haven't even come close to sorting out yet. It's like the world's biggest knot. I thus have to come to the conclusion that Noah was one hell of a biologist.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Time for a parasite story. As some of you may or may not know, there is a very common protozoan parasite infecting humans going by the name of Toxoplasma gondii. It has a pretty complicated life cycle, but here are the basics. To reproduce, the parasite needs to get into the gut of cats. After reproducing in the intestine of cats, oocysts are shed into the environment. These oocysts can infect a staggering number of species, including humans. In this host, which is sometimes people, the parasite develops into a dormant stage and essentially just waits for transmission to cats (i.e. you being eaten by a cat). Many of these dormant stages reside in the brain, but they aren’t really harmful in people, so the parasite isn’t a large health concern. Like many other parasites, T. gondii isn’t as passive as you’d expect…the parasites seem to alter host behaviour in a variety of different ways (increased neurosis and risk-taking among others). Given that this parasite occurs all around the world but at different levels of abundance, one might ask if this parasite can explain cultural differences. Well, Kevin Lafferty has done just that in a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Soceity (a really good journal). To make a long story short, his conclusions were suggestive of a relationship between cultural traits (again neurosis) and Toxoplasma prevalence. This is a very cute idea, though I have to say the study doesn’t really show that much. Even in the abstract, he says that “non-causal correlations” may explain these patterns. Furthermore, we all have to remember that correlation doesn’t mean causation. In other words, neurotic cultures may be more prone to infection with Toxoplasma, not the other way around! Basically, a whole hell of a lot more work would be needed to make the connection between culture and brain parasites more conclusive. But imagine if he’s right...wouldn’t that change your world view a bit? Well, it wouldn’t be too mind-boggling for me because I already recognize the power of parasites. Though, I doubt that parasitology courses will ever be a required part of cultural studies.

Now I really want to know if I’ve got Toxoplasma in my brain…

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Entertainment news

I never intended the blog to be used for ramblings about entertainment news, but there were a few new bits recently that I just can’t resist commenting on. And I (Ines) will add something to Dan´s comments.

1. Lance Bass of N’Sync is gay. When I was in high school, boy bands reigned supreme. Of course, their music was not well-liked by hormone infused teenage boys, and we expressed this distaste by indiscriminately labeling any member of a boy band as a homosexual. It seems that we were right at least once. Yes! Long before N´Sync were popular in Germany, we had two very successful bands called "Caught in the Act" from the Netherlands and "Boyzone" from Ireland. In each band was one gay guy. Of course, no one knew they were gay. But they ended up as a couple. And the bands split up.

2. Mel Gibson was picked up for drunk driving. I only mention this because it undermines a joke from the Simpson’s episode in which Gibson guess stars. At one point Gibson says “I speed all the time, but cops never give me a ticket” before lamenting “Its hell being Mel”. See how relevant the Simpson’s can be? Today, I was in charge of our newspaper´s soft news. I wrote something about Mel Gibson. He didn´t only drink and drive. He also insulted the policemen in an antisemitist way. American newspapers predict that his career is over.

3. Rockstar supernova. Tommy Lee (Mötley Crue), Jason Newstead (Metallica), and Gilby Clarke (Guns and Roses) are forming a band and they need a lead singer. Where can they find him/her? Reality TV of course. Personally, I don’t really see the appeal of joining a band with a bunch of musicians that haven’t been popular since the 80s (or at best the mid 90s). Then again, I’m not a TV executive or a washed up rockstar.

4. MTV turns 25. Amazing isn’t it? Check out the top moments list. Seems like the majority of the most memorable moments occurred after the network sold its soul and stopped playing videos. Also, isn’t it strange how something can begin as a countercultural phenomenon and then move into and even dictate main stream pop culture? I would almost say that the cartoons on Adult Swim are moving in a similar direction, but I think they’re too weird to become “normal”.

5. Pam Anderson married Kid Rock. Gross.

Dan and Ines

Monday, July 31, 2006

Spy Hard

This is an interesting article on corruption in the Italian national security organization. I knew the form Italian prime minister, Berlusconi, was probably pretty corrupt, and this article seems to support it. Nowadays, I'm getting my news through a European outlet (BBC) so I'm a bit surprised that I haven't really heard much about this before. Apparently, the investigation into an American rendition operation, which has been in the news, is turning up some rather provacative material. The author draws a possible correlation between this investigation and the "veil of secrecy" surrounding the American intelligence agency. While I won't express too much of an opinion on this (maybe I can be the only Benesh child left off the "blacklist"), I have to say it would interesting to know what is really going on inside the Bush administration's intelligence community. Journalistic dynamite!


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Here’s a picture of the first date of Ines and I. As you can see, I was draped in an American flag, like most times I’m trying to impress a girl. However, unlike most days I was carrying a giant club. I knew Ines would need some “convincing”, so I brought a real big stick. At first, she wasn’t so willing, but after awhile I was able to drag her home.

Seriously, though, aren’t relationships strange? Anyone that has ever been in a relationship knows how maddening they can be sometimes. If you spend much time pondering how and why relationships happen and how and why they work, there is a good chance you’ll come up with no good answers, at least that’s my experience. I can’t really explain or predict the way relationships work. While I’ve kinda given up on understanding human coupling, there are quite a lot of academics investigating this stuff. Surprisingly, there are many things that are predictable about relationships, most of which fit well within the context of evolutionary theory. For example, the concept of beauty and attractiveness is more or less universal. Men like curves (no surprises there), which are indicative of the ability to bear children. Women are far more attentive to the face of men, particularly the extent that it is friendly. Women also like rugged features on men’s faces, which is indicative of how much testosterone a man has. Perhaps most interestingly, women are attracted to power and status, even if they themselves are powerful and successful. Dating companies, through experience, know that pairing a woman with a less successful man will almost never lead to a relationship. Further, divorce rates are higher amongst couples in which the woman is more successful than the man (she being the one instigating the divorce usually). There is may be a cost associated with being in a high-profile relationship, however. High status, wealthy, powerful couples are more likely to cheat. At least TV shows seem to reflect that aspect of high society quite well. Besides these more or less tangible aspects of beauty and attractiveness, there are other subconscious signals we use to judge members of the opposite sex. Men rate women that are ovulating as more attractive on the basis of smell alone (i.e. after sniffing a sweaty t-shirt). Conversely, women can judge whether a man’s MHC genes (important in immunology) are a good fit with hers on the basis of his sweat. Wild, huh?

I could go on and on; this is such an interesting field. The evolutionary biologist in me wants to ponder how the listed observations may serve to increase fitness (admittedly, though, it is impossible to do manipulative experiments on humans, so some of the actual fitness consequences of, for example, cheating are ambiguous). Research on relationships has yielded results that aren’t necessarily PC and they may be at odds with many people’s romanticized notions of love. But think of why love has been romanticized by poets, intellectuals, and artists…because it is so amazingly beautiful and complex. Even though anthropology, psychology, and biology are explaining more and more of the concept of love, it is still easy to be mystified by the how and why of it. I know I still am.

Sprinklers at Mattilanniemi

It is 5 in the morning and I just said goodbye to a very good friend of Ines and I. She (Katri) is moving from Jyvaeskylae (I don't have the umlauts on my keyboard) tomorrow. Of course, we had to celebrate her last night in town. I'll spare the details, but we ended up dancing in freetime, a club that plays a lot of rock music. The timidness of Finns still amazes me. They are so reluctant to dance (by comparison, I'm eager to dance). After a lovely night out, I enjoyed the 25 min walk home. The temp was around 14 C, which is pretty brisk in just a t-shirt. As I was walking through the Mattilanniemi portion of campus, the sprinkler system was on. I have been through this area many, many times at all different parts of the day, and I have never seen the sprinklers on. It made me think about different things (why there is even a sprinkler system, why I never noticed it, and how I can avoid getting wet). But I also thought, everything needs a bit of help to grow. So Katri, in your new adventures outside Jkl, don't forget about your old friends here and don't be afraid to ask for some help and might just help you grow. The same goes to everyone else: try new things but don't be afraid of asking for some help. Best of luck Katri!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Pizza the Band.

For those who don't know, there is this interesting band called "HORSE the band". Over the past few months I've grown quite fond of them even though most people would find their music rather unpleasant. Basically, it is metal with some strange, high-pitched synthesizer thrown in. As others have described, it sounds like The Mario Brothers (nintendo) formed a metal band (Mario lead vocals, Luigi guitar, Princess on bass, Toadstool on keyboard, and Bowser on drums...other lineup suggestions?). Anyways, this post isn't to tell everyone to go and listen to their music. Nope, instead it is to direct people towards this post from the band. While in the middle of a tour, they had a life-changing experience with pizza. Basically, they ate some pizza that was so good, it inspired them to drop off the tour and write some new songs...about pizza. I'm certainly a fan of pizza, but I've never had pizza that inspired me artistically. After reading their post, you might think that they were just joking or on some drugs. I mean who's gonna actually write songs about pizza? Well, you shouldn't doubt the lunacy that is HORSE the band. They recorded an EP about pizza (named 'pizza' apparently) and will be releasing it in about a month. I suppose they should be admired for following their artistic vision, even if it is about pizza...

Today "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" was released in Germany. I watched it with Barbara and Johannes. The plot of the 150 minute-long movie was a bit of a disappointment to me because the different strands were pretty hard to follow and the story was very similar to the first part. Dramaturgy? Negative!
Well, at least the bad guys are uglier this time:).
I guess, it was even worse to watch for my two companions because they haven´t seen "Pirates of the Caribbean 1". Most of the film rolls downhill (if you´ve seen it, you´ll know what I mean) What I hate about movies are open endings! Now I have to watch the third part as well, in which Keith Richard plays Jack Sparrow´s (Johnny Depp) dad.
Maybe one movie about Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl (a ship) was enough. Do you know any sequels which are as good or better than the previous flick?
Perhaps I was expecting too much of a film that´s based on a Disney ride.
I still like Johnny Depp a lot though.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dice Wars

Check out this flash game that Luki sent to Ines and I. It's called Dice Wars and it works like the old board game Risk. You're a set of dice out to conquer the other dice that are a different color. Basically, when you have more dice on a square then you should attack the square with less dice. The number of new dice you get every turn is determined by the number of territories you occupy. It takes some "strategery", as our president say, and a bit of luck. Be is totally addictive, so don't try it unless you have some time on your hands.

By the way, does anyone remember Risk? It was a favorite board game of my older brother. He and his friends would have games of Risk go on for hours, and if they didn't finish in one day, they would keep the board setup intact to finish it on subsequent days. Every now and then a rogue house cat would destroy the setup causing people to argue about who was gonna win (imagine the dialogue..."c'mon, I controlled all of Europe and Africa...all you had was Austrailia and half of Asia...and not even the good part of Asia, just Siberia"). I also played Risk every once in a while, but it was never my favorite. I was more of a Monopoly man, which when you think about it basically has the same premise (conquer the world in Risk, conquer the business world in Monopoly). Anyways, by the time I was an adolescent, Risk could be played on the computer saving us lots of time spent rolling dice over and over again. Maybe that's why I seem to enjoy dice wars so much.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Highs and Lows

Mood: Bummed
Music: Slipknot, self-titled

There is a great Simpson’s quote about the so-called MTV generation. Lisa says that “nothing can upset us, we’re the MTV generation. We feel neither highs nor lows”. Homer responds by asking “what’s it like?” to which Lisa answers “eh”. Everyone must occasionally wish that feelings were not so powerful; that we could somehow walk an emotional middle ground. Of course, we can’t really do that. We’re human and we feel (though I think that if some parts of the brain are damaged we lose certain emotions). Emotions are on my mind because over the span of a weekend I experienced both giddy highs and de-motivating lows. On Friday, I got my MSc diploma in the mail. It feels great to see your name next to the term ‘Master’ (in English or Finnish). Further, my thesis was graded as laudatur (excellent), so my self-esteem was sky-high. I was ready to celebrate. Fortunately for me, the celebration took the form of a visit to a summer cottage with friends for the weekend. At the cottage we enjoyed sauna, beer, sausage, boating, bad fishing, jagermeister and perfect weather (see pic for what the lake looked like in the middle of the night). It was just a great time. As everyone knows, though, the highs don’t last. I came home on Sunday evening, turned on my computer, and checked my emails. I received an email about one of the manuscripts I had written from my Master’s research and submitted to a scientific journal. It was rejected. This was a first for me. The first two manuscripts I had written were published in the first journals I submitted them to (after considerable revision). Well, this email killed my weekend high. The worst part about getting a manuscript rejected is that the people who reviewed the paper need to justify their decision to reject the manuscript. That means they are free to say rather unflattering things about your work. For example, one reviewer stated that my knowledge of the literature was “poor”, and that I was “trying to make the best of a bad job”. Ouch. Criticism is a part of life, but it isn’t something that is easy to ignore. I’m bummed now, but hopefully I’ll get over this and get this work published somewhere. Just need to re-motivate myself…


Friday, July 21, 2006

For all the people who want to see me suffer, I told the dentist´s assistant to take a picture of me while the dentist was doing what dentists do. Unfortunately, the picture didn´t turn out so well. I look ridiculous and realised: A dentist´s assistant is no photo artist. Anyways, she wasn´t really surprised when I asked her to take a picture. Which surprised me. If you need a laid-back dentists who knows what he´s doing, I can give you his phone number.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I can´t write the kind of highly philosophical stuff Dan wrote, though I get 32.200 results if I google my name. Today I had a oral surgery and I bought a fan (It´s so hot here). That´s about all the interesting things I experienced. Check out the picture of my new fan. Watch out, John Lennon is hidden on there.
Self-identity in the 21st century

The search for an appropriate and comfortable identity is a journey that everyone must undertake. At some point in our lives we need to address, consciously or not, the questions of what we’re gonna do and what we’re gonna be? After making such important decisions we act on them. We pursue goals, adhere to certain lifestyles, and build careers. Through such actions and experiences we should build some kind of identity for ourselves. But how can check to see if our own perception of our identity is concordant with the notions of the world? Luckily, modern technology has provided us a way to tackle this vexing problem. Of course, I’m referring to the Google search engine. What better way to see how the world views you than by googling your own name and seeing what pops up? I can’t propose such a technique without trying it out, so let’s give this a run-through with my name.

The Google search returned 37,500 sites (apparently there are more Beneshs than I ever imagined). Since I don’t have the time to go through all of those (who would?), I’ll just consider the first 10. Only 5 of the first 10 actually refer to me (#1, 3, 4, 5, and 6), but at least I’m dominating the top 5. The 1st, 5th, and 6th sites all deal with my Fulbright scholarship to come to Finland. The third site is the only one dealing with my 4 years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I’m just a name on a long list of honors program people. The 4th site is a link to the issue of the Journal of Parasitology containing my very first paper. In my opinion, which seems to be in contrast to the workings of google’s search algorithm, this should be first. This link involved the most work by me to bring into existence. In any case, from these Google search results, what can we conclude about my identity? Well, as a fairly biased judge, I would consider myself a nerdy (see UNL honors program) parasitologist (duh) that for some reason ended up in Finland. Yep, it sure seems like Google nailed my identity, and, further, it lets me know that my notions about who I am are more or less right. The system works! this single case. I wouldn’t be scientific minded if I didn’t consider some of the drawbacks. For example, in my case the 2nd paper I published is nowhere to be found. Why? I don’t know, but I guess Google doesn’t value it. It deals with molecular evolution, so I guess I can’t rightly consider myself a molecular biologist (which is probably a good thing). I suppose most people would consider this approach pointless if they work on and accomplish things that just don’t make it onto the internet. To this critique, we must remember the age we live in, the information age. If the high points in your life don’t make it onto the internet, then you gotta get with the times! Finally, people with extremely common names may scoff at my method as the Google hits will hardly ever be about them. Take this as motivation. Try to be the best damn Joe Common-name ever! Try to become an internet mogul. Competition is generally a good thing (the American in me talking there).

Ok, I’ve been writing this too long. Anyone who wants, point out the faults in my quickly reasoned theory.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

As most of you know, I´m working for a regional newspaper in Kassel (central Germany). If you are interested in reading some of my articles, check out Unfortunately, it´s only in German and you can only see the articles I´ve written in the last weeks.
But check out the website anyways, because my friend Barbara is one of the webmasters and she´s doing a great job.

Been together too long...
Over the past 2 years or so, we have had many great ideas for books. Perhaps near the top of the list is a book entitled "You know you've been together too long when...". Basically, the book would be a compilation of observations about a maturing relationship. Hopefully our observations are universal, and can thus be humorously viewed by other couples. Here is a spattering of examples (perhaps we can keep posting these here, so we don't forget them):

You know you've been together too long when...
  • you think that jogging together is a good idea.
  • you start using one laundry basket.
  • on shopping trips together, time is decided beforehand.
  • you share a favorite cocktail (e.g. White Russian).
  • you both know the answer to the question: Where is Nebraska? (In the north)
  • you don´t mind sleeping next to the wall.
  • he stops being bothered by her beauty products in his flat.
  • she buys beauty products for him.
  • she recalls names of parasites in conversation.
  • you make mix CDs for each other and don´t care about the romantic value.
  • you start a blog together.