Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ines and I visited Ines' cousin Alex in Hamburg yesterday. It was the first time I was in Hamburg, with the exception of a few transfers at the main train station. I had high expectations because Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany, is considered one of the hipper cities in Europe. I'm not so sure if we partied in the hip, cool parts of Hamburg, but we at least experienced the most famous. We went out on the Reeperbahn last night. Numerous bars, discos, fast food joints, sex stores, and strip clubs are located along the Reeperbahn and its surroundings. Just like Las Vegas, the whole area appeals to that part of us that just wants to get drunk and be naughty (I was neither drunk nor naughty last night, for those wondering if this post would get a bit more sordid). Though it doesn't have as much of an international reputation as Amsterdam, Hamburg is famous for the conspicuousness of its prostitutes, and perhaps the most interesting sight in this regard was Herbertstrasse (see the wikipedia link above). The street is blocked from view by a wall. Behind the wall and along the street sit prostitutes in tall glass windows lined with red lights. Only males above the age of 18 are allowed in; women cannot go and gawk at the hookers (and they also prefer to have only serious male customers on the street). Actually, last night felt more like a sight-seeing evening than a night out. Next time, hopefully, we'll find some of those ultra-hip clubs and avoid the tourists. The city is less than 2 hours from Ploen by train, so the next time could be rather soon.

Also, just as a follow-up to the last post. I discovered another thing that makes N. Germany like America. The bars and restaurants here offer pitchers of beer, something that I have not seen outside the U.S. before. I'm happy that this wonderful aspect of American drinking culture (there aren't that many) has been adopted somewhere outside the States.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

As a warning, this post may involve some over-generalized stereotypes that some will disagree with. If you don’t like agree with me, comment or start your own blog. After such an ominous forewarning, you may expect me to write something stupid, like Nobel winner and DNA pioneer James Watson recently did. For those that don’t know, he inferred that blacks were inherently less intelligent than Europeans. Oops. No surprise that he was then suspended from his position at Cold Spring Harbor. Nice to know that a Nobel prize doesn’t give someone unbridled freedom to say whatever offensive thing they want. I’m digressing. This is the thought I wanted to share: regional cultural differences in Germany have taken me a step closer to America. After leaving America, I spent over 2 years in Finland, a land known for the quiet, withdrawn nature of its citizens. Finns just are not big talkers. Adjusting to Finnish culture was not difficult for me, because I was never very good at forcing petty small talk, a skill that’s often expected of Americans. From Finland, I moved into another stereotypically quiet culture, Germany. The Germans, though perhaps more outgoing than Finns, also tend to maintain a social “wall” when meeting new people, and cheery American yammering is often met with suspicion, even if it is well-intended. In my experience, this has been kinda true. Germans, like Finns, tend to be pretty quiet unless you know them, but my experiences are largely confined to Leipzig. It has been two weeks since I moved from Leipzig, in East Germany, to Ploen, in North Germany, and my opinions about the German character are changing. Here, most everyone in the office says “good morning”, which was not the case in Finland. When I go jogging, the people nod and perhaps utter a greeting, something that never happened in Finland or in Leipzig. Two days ago, a little old lady kept telling me how nice it was that I held the door for her. In Finland or Leipzig, I expect I would have received a “kiitos” or “danke”, but nothing more. A realtor that I met with in Ploen was more than happy to discuss various things about America (e.g. dollar to euro exchange rate, weather in Florida), instead of getting straight down to the details. Such social interactions, in my opinion, are more typically American, so, by moving here, have I entered a culture more compatible with my own? I have to admit that the difference between Leipzig and Ploen may reflect differences in city size than regional differences in culture, i.e. small town folk are just uber-friendly. Seems like I need to consult more Germans on this…maybe they could tell me an appropriate way how to end this post.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I feel like I'm moving up into the scientific big leagues. Some of the work done here (not mine) is of interest to a general audience, i.e. it does not strictly revolve around exotic parasites. How do I know that laypeople are interested in this research? I saw this article on the msn homepage after signing out of hotmail this afternoon. Some of my new colleagues published a very interesting study on how gossip affects people's willingness to cooperate. It seems that a comment or "gossip" about someone can be more important than that person's actual behavior with regard to forming an opinion about the person. To me, this suggests that we can be rather shallow and lazy creatures. Instead of forming an opinion by honest observation, it might just be easier to trust the gossip we hear. Though I'm working with worms and not humans, my work isn't likely to turn up on msn.com or any other website for that matter. However, if it does, this blog will be the first to break the story.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It has been quite a while since a post…3 weeks to be exact. Those three weeks can be broken into 3 distinct phases: (1) travelling with my parents, (2) preparing to move from Leipzig to Ploen, and (3) moving to Ploen and starting my new job. So, obviously there has been material for me to blog about, but I’ll simply say that an overabundance of anxiety has proven an effective obstacle to more prolific blogging. Anyways, I’ll try to report here and give some reflections on the last few weeks following my PhD defense.

After my defense, we had quite the party, as would be expected, lasting until well after 3. The very next day Ines, my parents, and I took the train from JKL to
Helsinki at the unfortunately early hour of 1 p.m. (I slept off my hangover the whole way). The rest of that weekend was spent seeing the sites in Helsinki before flying to Berlin on Sunday. On Monday, I showed my parents around Berlin, and we took in the major sites. For both my parents, Berlin felt somewhat unreal. The history there is so fresh...and no city has a history like Berlin. Since I’ve been there several times, my fascination with the city’s cold war history has been partially replaced with my enthusiasm for its nightlife and overall vibe. Nonetheless, it was kinda fun to share in my parents’ astonishment while touring the city. That evening, we took the train to Leipzig. After a morning spent seeing Leipzig, we headed south to Sprechtsbrunn, Ines' home town. We arrived in the evening to meet Ines' parents. A homemade sign hung from the door and said (in english) "Welcome for Dr. Dan, his parents, and our Ines". Awesome. The crash of cultures that Ines and I feared was certainly dampened by our good friend alcohol. Language barriers really do get much lower after a few glasses of wine. Actually, I think the whole experience of dealing with language barriers made a big impact my parents; it was probably the first time they’ve been in a situation where they just cannot communicate. Of course, Ines and I spent the night translating back and forth, which also kept the conversation dynamic and humorous. The next day, we drove to Dresden. The entire old town in Dresden is a UNESCO world heritage site, perfect for touristy Americans keen to experience old Europe. The last stop on the trip was Prague and more touristy excursions. Besides a bit of trouble finding the hotel and some heavy rain during our city tour, Prague was relatively enjoyable.

My parents flew from Prague back to the States. I went back to Leipzig to think about the next phase of my life: a move to Northern Germany and the tiny city of Ploen (13,000 inhabitants). I spent a week in Leipzig trying to get my head about me…it took a surprising amount of time to actually realize that the PhD thesis and defense were finished and behind me. While soaking in that realization was (and is), naturally, pleasant, I began to focus on moving and beginning a new job. I must admit, I was sad to leave Leipzig. In the 9 months I lived there, I managed to become comfortable in Germany and I developed a fondness for the city. Such is life though. Moving and leaving one’s comfort zone are sometimes unavoidable, often unpleasant, but also frequently beneficial. For example, if I never left Nebraska for Finland, then I would not have met Ines and we would not have a blog with the ludicrous title “parasites and rock n roll”. The worse part is not what I left behind in Leipzig, but who. Ines has to stay in Leipzig to work and write her thesis. So, for the second time in our relationship, we are separated by some distance. On the positive side, the distance between Ploen and Leipzig is much shorter than between Finland and Germany.

For those who don’t know, the reason I moved to Ploen is that there is a research institute located here, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology. For reasons which are still not entirely clear to me, this prestigious Institute offered me a post doc position for an undetermined amount of time. I’ll be studying the evolution of complex life cycle parasites using a particular tapeworm species as a model organism. Actually, the topic fits my interests very well and it’s related to my previous research, so that is probably the reason for their job offer. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work here for a couple years, but one can never know. At the moment, I’m just trying to stay positive in the face of all the unfamiliarity (a more positive thinker would say novelty): new colleagues, new boss, new city, new lab system, new expectations. Ines is, of course, keeping me focused on the opportunities, not the challenges, presented by this new situation. I can never thank her enough for that.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The defense is over! Wow, what an experience. There were points in which I didn't have a good answer for the opponent's questions, but, overall, it was a good discussion. I'm glad to have it behind me. Now comes the party. Juhu!

p.s. there will be no post tomorrow. Surprise.
It is about 3 hrs before my defense and man am I nervous. Ines says that my eyes look bad...large, dark rings, like a raccoon. But what can you expect? This is a stressful experience. I suppose if it were easy to get a doctorate, everyone would do it. I try to talk myself down "c'mon how hard can a two or three hour discussion be? Besides you spent three years thinking about these problems." Unfortunately, reasoning with myself seldom helps at this point. I'm gonna be nervous no matter how confident I am or how confident I can talk myself into being. The only real solution to such a problem is go through with the event itself. And so I will in about 3 hours.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There is no place like Nebraska. Though this was a recruiting motto for the University of Nebraska, it could apply equally well to this wacky story. A state senator in Nebraska is sueing God. After reading the article, it is still not very clear to me as to why he is sueing God...something about language use in some other case. Actually, the point does not need to be clear. All I needed to know was that it was Ernie Chambers. I'm from Nebraska, I already know he's crazy. This guy only wears t-shirts, has a show on public TV in which he rants about societal injustice, and made enough enemies in the senate to have a law passed to implement term limits (because they wanted to stop him from continually being re-elected). When I lived in Nebraska, I never had anything against the guy. In fact, I thought it was probably a good thing to have an angry black man to stand up against all those honkies in the Nebraska state legislature. Maybe he would keep some balance. However, after being through more than one of these ridiculous episodes (he plays the race card a lot...that gets tiresome), he has lost all credibility to me. Is he really changing anything or helping anyone by sueing God (who I imagine won't appear in court)? No. At least the incident is not only sad and pointless, it's also a bit humorous. We Americans love to blame our problems on other people and sueing is the way to do it. And when you can't find a mortal being to blame, why not pin your bad luck on the big kahuna?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

There is a certain amount of narcissism involved in maintaining a blog (i.e. please read about me and my opinions!). Thus, I will not feel too guilty or self-involved posting this link. It is the university’s press release announcing my thesis defense. The page is all in Finnish with the exception of my thesis abstract. I must say, when I see announcements about my impending thesis defense, I start to get both excited and nervous for the actual event itself. The reality of it all is slowly seeping in.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

From the cartoon, you may be able to guess what I did today. That’s right, I started to clean my desk in preparation for moving out next week. In the region above and around my desk, a considerable amount of entropy has accumulated over the last few years. ..scattered papers, folders with meaningless labels, equipment borrowed from other people 2 years ago, specimens unsystematically piled together, etc. The most interesting part of this activity is seeing how my work haphazardly proceeded the last couple years. By haphazard, I mean that my work was never clearly directional; I didn’t start with a clear plan about which questions I wanted to answer and what my ultimate goal was. To some degree I regret this, because it may have been more productive to have one well-construed project to pursue. It would have given me some boundaries. Instead, I had the freedom to pursue any zany idea that popped into my head (which I often did), regardless of whether or not it was good. The zeal of youth, which is fading, was party to blame for this. As I went through some of this stuff on my desk, I saw the manifestations of this zealousness, i.e. various ideas scribbled on scraps of papers. I could see and realize how much time I spent on ideas that simply didn’t result in anything tangible (besides my indecipherable paper scribblings). But that is how science goes. There is not usually a straight, clear path to any goal, and the failed, underdeveloped, and outlandish ideas are probably always gonna outweigh the genuinely good ideas.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A museum dedicated entirely to parasites? Yep, one exists in Japan. Check it out. I would go there just so I could buy stuff in their shop. Particularly exciting is the keychain with a seal nematode inside (Anisakis). Cool.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The intellectual showdown we've all been waiting for...baby humans vs baby chimps. Who performs better in simple tasks? Some researchers recently set about to find out. Turns out the humans outperformed the chimps (hurray for our species!). What I find amusing though is the thought that they were probably kids in this study who couldn't figure out these various tests. How would that make their parents feel? Would they tell their son or daughter later in life that, when you were 2 years old, you couldn't outsmart a monkey? I'm glad I wasn't subjected to such a tough comparison early in life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm flying to Rovaniemi, Finland tomorrow for the meeting of the Scandinavian-Baltic Society of Parasitology. Three days of talks about parasites taking place on the arctic circle. Should be fun. I'll give a talk about how parasites alter the behavior of their hosts through time. The talk is right after a coffee break, so if I notice people nodding off, I'll know my talk is very, very boring. Let's hope a few people stay interested. I'll be in Finland most of September, so I may not be posting too often.

Saturday, August 25, 2007



Ines and I were at the Games Convention here in Leipzig yesterday. It is the biggest games fair in Europe and it was wild. Tony Hawk was even there promoting his new game. Things sure have come a long way from Pong. I was a rather big "gamer" until high school, but after I went to college there just seemed like too many other things to do (note: there was one exception, Conker's Bad Fur Bay for N64...we played that game, perhaps the best of all time, quite frequently in the dorms). In college, I started to view video games as a time waster, something more for bored kids than high-strung students. So, I have not really been paying too much attention to the gaming world. Yesterday, though, I saw how much the industry has grown. The graphics are wildly life-like, most everything can be played multiplayer online, there are controllers with built-in motion sensors, and many games push the boundaries of decency (to view one game, Ines had to show her ID to prove she was 18). All the attending "gamers", mostly male of course, were being wooed by the game designers and console manufacturers. For example, at the booths of many games or demos, scantilly clad women were willing to (read paid to) pose for photographs with any given nerd. It was like a car show for geeks, but cool none the less. In fact, Ines and I want a Wii after playing one for all of two minutes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When it comes to human behavior, I have a tendency to look for biological explanations, i.e. it's in our genes. Not that I discount cultural explanations, but they just seem weaker in my eyes. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise...I am a biologist and I like to think most traits evolved to serve some kind of purpose. Anyways, in the nature vs. nuture continuum, I would suppose that something like color preference would lie on the nuture end of things. I mean, why would someone's favorite color be innate? Well, here is an interesting piece of research that shows that females have a clear preference for red/pink, yet males and females do not differ in their preference for blue. The study was conducted using adults, so genetic and environmental influences are indistinguishable; they need to do a similar study using infants to show that the preference is innate. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating that pink may be inherently more attractive to females, which would just further demonstrate the extent that our biology unconsciously affects our decisions. Makes me almost feel a bit guilty that I bought a pink shirt awhile ago.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The other day, I was watching a nature documentary on deep sea research. Of course, it was very interesting, because our knowledge of this ecosystem has exponentially increased over the last few decades. In this show, the researchers were studying the ecology of whale falls. Whale carcasses are like oases in the desert of the ocean bottom, and a wide variety of bizarre critters seem to find their way to the buffet. Amazingly, some described species of worms seem to be found exclusively on these rare but bountiful sources of food. There are many valid and interesting research questions being asked about whale falls, like how these critters manage to find whale carcasses and how they travel the vast distances between carcasses? While I find these questions intriguing, I could not help but wonder about the logistics of this work and how it is funded. After working in science for a good 6 years or so, I’ve learned this fundamental lesson: money does not come easy for basic research (i.e. research that doesn’t obviously have an application that will benefit people). There are lots of curious scientists that want to do basic research, and they all tend to think their ideas are interesting and exciting enough to deserve loads of funding. But, like most any other pursuit, there is never quite enough money to go around and make everyone happy. I’ve accepted that, and it is part of the reason that I try to do research that is relatively light on spending, e.g. paying my salary and buying me a bit of equipment. My applications appear to have a good profit ratio in the eyes of the granting agency (hopefully); they think they will get a lot for their money. To do this kind of deep sea research, on the other hand, the budget must be huge. There are projects in which dead whales were towed out to sea, and then regularly visited to study the progression of the ecosystem on the carcass. To do something like that, you need to pay for a ship (a big one), deep sea submersibles (which I can only image are expensive), a crew, numerous scientists and graduate students, and the equipment for the any desired analyses (e.g. DNA sequencing of collected critters). And you got to pay for those ocean voyages a couple times per year. What do the funding agencies get in return for this huge investment? Well, they will be acknowledged in a variety of papers reporting the expedition’s discoveries, perhaps even in rather good journals given the uniqueness of such studies. Nonetheless, that hardly seems like a reason to fork out hundreds of thousands of dollars. Actually, I think the clearest justification for this work is that it captures people’s imagination. If they can make a TV show out of it, some non-scientists must find the work fascinating and worth doing. That can not be said about most basic research, which is almost totally inaccessible to non-scientists. Just take the name of my thesis for example. Does this seem inviting: “Larval life history, transmission strategies, and the evolution of intermediate host exploitation by complex life cycle parasites”? Sometimes I think, not too seriously, that I should have been a paleontologist, my dream job when I was a dinosaur-crazed 6-year old. Then I’d be able to receive grants to travel to Siberia, East Africa, China, etc. to excavate dead animals and go on TV to tell people about my amazing discoveries. But then I wouldn’t get to work with living worms, a much more exhilarating, although equally useless (in the eyes of laymen) experience.

Friday, August 17, 2007

We had a surprise visit from an old friend of mine this week. Eliot, an acquiantance from my college days, wrote me an email on Monday saying "hey, I'm in Germany, where do you live?". I was a bit shocked, but happy to find time to host a wayward American. He happened to be in Berlin, which is just an hour from Leipzig, so on Tuesday afternoon I picked him up from the train station. You can read about some of our activities on his blog, which happens to be much more active than this one. Ya see, Eliot is an internet "somebody", just check out his list of blogging and editing duties. Other internet nerds know of him, though they may have never met him in the flesh. In fact, he was in Germany to attend a computer camp and learn about hacks, new technologies, and other things that he explained, but I didn't really understand. He did manage to enlighten me in one respect though. Apparently, during my three years abroad (yeah it was 3 years this month), I have picked up some kind of indistinguishable accent...not American, not Finnish, not German. Oh well. I'll start to worry when Germans tell me that I speak funny English.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

This is interesting. Exertion sweat (from exercise) has a chemical composition different from stress sweat (from anxiety). The stress sweat seems to result in a worse smell. I reek regularly of both varieties, but I think the stress stench will be more common in the next 2 months. I'm rapidly finalizing my thesis and preparing for the events and party thereafter. I think it is a bit like planning a shotgun wedding...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

This comic is dumm, but hilarious. I think I would react in a similar way...

Friday, July 27, 2007

This post was inspired by Ben's comment on the last post. He was disappointed that McBain's experiences with lab safety did not make Nature's "Best of Simpson's Science" list. That reminded me of this picture I saw in a recent issue of TIME magazine. It comes from a peculiarly-titled website called icanhascheezburger.com. Though you wouldn't know from the name, it is a site that collects pictures of cute cats with clever captions (actually they are pretty funny...and adorable). Anyways, the TIME article notes how undisputably weird, quirky sites like this are becoming a thing of the past. The author argued that contemporary internet phenomena are almost inevitably homogeized and commercialized, because, well, nowadays the internet is a part of mainstream culture. The pure geekiness is being squeezed out, i.e. no more "all are base are belong to us". I suppose I am not enough of a computer dork to comment on the validity of that opinion, but I am nerdy enough to write a post that finds a common thread between cats, the simpsons, and a respected, weekly-news magazine.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

For those who love The Simpsons, check this out. Science in The Simpsons...on this blog we obey the laws of thermodynamics!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Some researchers spent the last 20 years trying to write a computer program that is unbeatable at checkers…and they just succeeded (see here). While this is interesting, I find the predictions in this article amusing. They are predicting that chess will take another 50 years to “crack”. Who actually wants to spend the next few decades trying to write an unbeatable chess program, one that always plays a perfect match? Hopefully, and I don’t know this, they are just waiting for computing power to reach a level capable of analyzing all the possible moves. Seems like something that would have been useful during the cold war…

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yesterday and the day before, I had my big german test. I assume that I passed, but I have no idea about the grade (the oral part necessitates rather subjective evaluation). Anyways, according to the German government, my knowledge of the German language is now sufficient to integrate into German society. Yeah, we will see. The test marks the end of my formal, classroom German education. From now on, TV, radio, internet, and the street will be my teachers. Luckily, some aspects of German language manage to keep me interested in learning, e.g. how many words have seeped into the international conciousness (see here).

In an unrelated note, Ines was on TV last night (MDR) because she bought the new Harry Potter book. She was briefly interviewed (about 4 or 5 questions), but only 7 words actually made it into the final cut of the report. Too bad, she had a wild theory about how the series ends...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

This is pretty interesting. In ancient China, war tended to coincide with extended periods of cold climate, which naturally resulted in reduced food availability. If people are starving, it is very easy to imagine them taking up arms and trying to acquire food/land by force. Thus, this result is not particularly surprising. What I find interesting, though, is how these presumed “resource wars” may contrast with several recent conflicts. The cold war, for example, was a fight over an ideology. Similarly, the war on terrorism/drugs are also, on some level, ideological wars. People are supposedly fighting over ideas, not the basic elements of subsistence. On the other hand, power seems to be a the underlying motive in every conflict. Those in power, i.e. the winner, can decide how to control resources and which ideological message to convey. Is it overly simplistic to say the cause of war is simply a struggle for power? Probably, but it seems to make sense to me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Memories in music

Have you ever noticed how music can define generations? What would the 70’s have been without funk, the 80’s without electro and punk, or the 90’s without rap? Well, now that I’m a twenty-something, I can reflect back upon the music and memories in my life. I’ll do this theoretically. If I were to make three mix CDs that defined three of the last “blocks” of my life, here is what they’d be.

CD 1 – High school (in no particular order)
1. Metallica – As the bell tolls. Metallica was one of the first bands I discovered as a teenager, and I always thought “Ride the Lightning” was their coolest album.
2. Prodigy – Smack my bitch up. When I was 16, I tried to buy this album at NFM (for all the Omahans), but they wouldn’t sell it to me because of the explicit lyric sticker (needed to be 18).
3. Offspring – Gone away. Any number of Offspring songs could’ve made the list. I was tempted to take “Pretty fly (for a white guy)”, but thought it was too obvious.
4. Korn – Blind. The first track from Korn’s first album is a classic. I must have heard it a thousand times in my high school’s weight room.
5. Zebrahead – Get back. Some fun pop metal that today sounds, well, so 90s.
6. Reel Big Fish – She’s got a girlfriend. Ska enjoyed a brief surge in popularity in the late 90s, and RBF were a favorite in the genre (swing music also had a resurgence, with less penetration into youth culture)
7. Powerman 5000 – When worlds collide. A prominent group in the nu-metal wave with no staying-power in the long term (their second album was supposedly scrapped by the label for being too crappy).
8. Hed p.e. – Serpent boy. Of all the bands that tried to fuse rap and metal, this one probably managed it make sound most genuine. I liked to call it ghetto metal.
9. Limp Bizkit – Counterfeit. Though I can’t say it too loudly in public these days, I will admit in private to being a Limp Bizkit fan as a teenager. I had to be. They were huge. This song, their first single ever, was never popular, though I thought it described well all the phony people I had to go to school with.
10. Deftones – My own summer (shove it). Because of the chorus (“Shove it!”), I wanted this to be our class song.
11. The Urge – Liquor store. Do I even need to explain why Liquor store would be a favorite for bored teenagers?
12. Green Day – Nimrod. This is the song that turned me onto Green Day, possibly the best pop-punk band ever.
13. Static-X – Push it. I secretly wanted hair like frontman Wayne Static. Also, I always remember how a fan graciously requested this song at one of their shows by screaming “Push the F*#@ing it!”.
14. NIN – Closer. This was one of the first songs I managed to download in mp3 format (the very first was Blur – Song2).
15. 2 Skinnee J’s – Riot Nrrrd. A song written by nerds for nerds that just rocks. Besides one of the two J’s was the son of my high school counselor.
16. Korn – Falling away from me/Freak on a leash. Korn is the only band making it twice onto the list, and these two songs probably mark the peak of their popularity. I was a huge Korn fan. I had to support the leading musical alternative to boy bands like N’Sync.

CD2 – College (again no order)
1. Mudvayne – Dig (or -1). Mudvayne took over Korn’s place as my favorite band in college. I would always listen to them when I needed to vent some anger (which was often, I seem to recall).
2. Slipknot – Wait and bleed. Slipknot was around when I was in high school, but I only became interested in college when I discovered the like-minded band, Mudvayne.
3. System of a Down – Sugar. Another band I was listening to in high school. SOAD’s popularity peaked, though, when I was in college, so I think of them as a post-2000 band.
4. Ill Nino – Revolution
5. 36 Crazyfists – Turns to ashes
6. 40 Below Summer – Step into the sideshow
7. Boy Hits Car – As I watch the sun fuck the ocean. The music produced by artists 3 to 7 just fit this transitional period, from nu-metal to the more metal/hardcore that dominates heavy music nowadays. Also, these bands are rather obscure, reflecting my increasingly eccentric taste in music at the time.
8. theStart – Gorgeous. This band is a bit of an outsider on the list, but I was really into theStart’s modernized take on new wave. Actually, more of Ines’ taste than mine.
9. Deadsy – Mansion world. An electro-rock band fronted by Cher’s son, how could you go wrong? Coolest live version of the Star Wars theme I’ve ever heard.
10. OTEP – The lord is my weapon. The angriest female front woman in the world, and I was digging it in the summer of ’01, the last summer I spent suffering under my parent’s roof.
11. Primer 55 – Anti-social. Chorus: “Sorry I’m anti-social, but people just make me sick”. Yeah, I was often of this attitude, especially in the presence of suck-up pre-med students or arrogant Frat boys and Sorority girls.
12. Xandria – Child of the blue. An obscure German band I found via mp3.com. Who would have thought that I’d now be able to buy their CDs in the store…in Germany?
13. Rorschach test – Fornicator. I don’t know any other songs from this band, but this song was played now and then on the Uni’s radio station. With the hook “that’s why they call me, Fornicator!”, how could a male, college student not love this track?
14. Atom and His Package – I’m downright amazed at what I can destroy with just a hammer. Frosty’s theme song.
15. Mindless Self Indulgence – Faggot/Bitches/Planet of the Apes. MSI’s major label debut was 30 tracks listed in alphabetical order. That kind of peculiarity led to MSI being a favorite band in my circle of friends. I can’t describe the music; you just have to experience it.

CD3 – Finland and beyond
1. Dog Fashion Disco – Sweet insanity. Honestly, DFD should be on the college list. However, I enjoyed sharing DFD with unsuspecting Finns, so I put this band here.
2. HIM – Join me in death. Before I knew I was headed North, I did not know HIM was Finland’s biggest pop culture export. In your face Sweden!
3. Nightwish – Nemo. When I arrived in Finland, this song was on top of the charts. A goth-metal band topping the charts? Yeah, I had definitely arrived in a foreign country.
4. Lordi – Hard rock hallelujah. This song is ridiculous, but after winning the Eurovision song contest, the monsters of Lordi were treated national heroes.
5. Timo Rautianen – Hyvää paiva. The last Finnish band on the list is the first one I saw live in JKL.
6. Rammstein – Amerika. In Europe, unlike the U.S., this band is not a one-hit wonder. Anyways, their attempted lampoon of the U.S. always makes me laugh.
7. HORSE the Band – Bunnies. Nintendo meets death metal. They have perhaps the funniest lyrics that can’t be understood because of the screaming delivery.
8. The Blood Brothers – Spit shine your black clouds. This song is on the Young Machetes CD, probably my ‘07 album of the year (though it came out in late ‘06…can’t catch the new releases as quick as I used to).
9. Tub Ring – The promise keeper. Similar to DFD, perhaps even quirkier at times, their eccentric, creative style forms to my musical tastes. They’ve been a fixture on my mp3 player, so I’ve spent a lot of time jamming out to their music while doing mindless lab work.
10. Modest Mouse – Float on. A particular American (not me) in JKL had quite the affinity for MM, and was always willing to talk to you about how great the band is.
11. The Sounds – Living in America. The chorus “we’re not living in America, and we’re not sorry” just resonates for an ex-pat. Also, Ines regularly plays this track when she spins, usually before or after Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America”. Cool.
12. The Faint – Agenda Suicide. I was listening to the Faint in college. After all, they came from Omaha, my hometown. The discovery that this home town band had a fan base in Europe, though, rekindled my interest in this band. P.S. Ines also usually spins this track.
13. Wir sind Helden – Denkmal. This song, because of Singstar on Playstation, was the first German song in which I learned (most of) the lyrics. Also, we recently saw them live in studio, giving a radio concert.
14. The Killers – Smile like you mean it/Somebody told me. These songs will always remind me of Finland and more importantly my very special blog partner, Ines.

This is the 100th post on the blog!!! Wohoo!

Friday, July 06, 2007


Ok, there hasn’t been a proper post for a long while. I could use a variety of different excuses, e.g. work, german learning, TV, playstation, beer, etc. I have to be honest, though, laziness should probably be at the top of the list. It seems to be monsoon season in Germany, so it isn’t like I’ve been working on my tan. Let’s just call that break a summer blogging holiday, and get on with this post. Ok?

What the heck has gone on the last couple weeks? The biggest milestone for me is that I handed in my PhD thesis. Yippee! Unfortunately, though, that yippee still has an asterisk next to it. The thesis needs to be reviewed, revised, and then defended before I’m Dr. Benesh (or Dr. Dan as Ines’ friends favor). Also, I’ve been going through the usual cycle of manuscript submission and subsequent rejection, so I can’t claim that my professional life is without disappointment and failure. Ines has also made some big career moves lately. She got a job working for the TV show “unter uns” (not the soap, but the talk show) finding guests and more or less keeping the whole thing organized. Right now, it is part-time, but in the fall it’ll be a full-time gig…pretty cool.

Other stuff…last weekend Ines and I had holiday. It was not a proper holiday, i.e. 2-3 weeks away from work, like a typical summer vacation in Germany. Nope, we just took a 4-day weekend, but it was nonetheless cool. We visited the Rhine Valley, saw the Loreley, tasted some fine German wines, and went inside the world’s largest wine barrel (Dürkheimer Riesenfass, toll). Perhaps the most memorable part of the trip, though, is one of the places we stayed, a village called Frankenstein. How awesome is that? As you can see from the picture, this simple fact kept us amused (ok, more me than Ines). After visiting the wine region, we drove to Kassel to check out the Documenta in Kassel, the biggest art exhibition in the world. One of the more famous “pieces” at the exhibition was from an Asian artist that planted rice fields on a hill in front of an old palace. When we saw it, the ground was completely dry and the rice plants were dying. At least these misplaced rice fields were somehow more artistic than the paintings of black lines on a white background. Yeah, I don’t understand art at all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I found this mind-blowing. Teenage Americans, on average, expect to earn well over $100,000 per year as adults, a number way out of touch with reality. Here is the article. The age range in this survey was from 13 to 18, and I must admit that I didn't have much of a clue about money in the real world when I was 13. By the time I was 18, though, I had worked numerous low-paying jobs, and I knew that money doesn't come easy. I suppose kids that are not as negative as I was (or perhaps not as realistic) don't let these kind of real-world experiences destroy their dreams.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I still tend to get angry at this kind of stuff, even though I should just shake my head. There is a creationist inspired museum opening up in the U.S. Here is a story about it. It drives me crazy that the people preaching this stuff say there are using the same facts as everyone else. The earth is only 6,000 years old? Dinosaurs were in the Garden of Eden? Though I don't know many geologists or paleotologists, I imagine only a tiny fraction would hypothesize that dinosaurs and humans co-existed a few thousand years ago (and I imagine all of those would be bible thumping conservatives working in private, Christian universities). At least there are no public funds going towards this thing; its built by private donations. I have to admit it is scary that someone can raise 27 million dollars to build a museum based on an allegorical story.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The wave gothic festival was in Leipzig this weekend. I'm not sure, but I believe it is the biggest meeting of its kind in Europe. Long story short, there were a lot of interesting people in the city. Check out some pictures here. Ines' cousin is a participant in this gothic culture and we went with her to one of these gothic parties this weekend. It was rather cool...music you would almost never hear in a club, lots of interesting people to look at. Though there were many ridiculous outfits, the most humorous thing I observed at this party was in the bathroom. It was perhaps the first time I observed competition for mirror space in a men's bathroom. The gothic guys had to check whether their black lipstick and eyeliner still looked ok. Maybe we can think of this as a step toward gender equality...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Disney Movies and German Bureaucracy

I remember that in my primary education (and beyond) tolerance and appreciation for cultural diversity were major topics of societal concern. The main points were and are obvious. Don't categorize people. Do be racist. Everyone should have an equal shot. Stereotypes are wrong. Now, if I take these lessons and apply them to my experiences in Germany, then I should be able to debunk many of the common, German stereotypes. Beer-drinking, sausage-eating, well-organized, unfriendly skinheads. I'm not actually gonna address any of these prejudices/exaggerations. Instead, I'm just using them to bring me in a roundabout, incoherent way to an absolutely true stereotype: the bureaucracy in Germany is extensive and intolerable. Today, I was at the immigration office. I had been there once before to ask about the documents I would need to produce to get permission to live in this country. After compiling this mass of documents, I returned to the office in the hopes of easily procuring a residence permit. The first step was to wait 3 hours before being able to talk to anyone (when I arrived they were in the 40s and I pulled number 129). Upon finally talking with someone, it turns out that the application is still not complete. Luckily, I can send the papers without actually waiting in the office again. However, I have to wait a few months before my application is actually processed, and when it is, that's another trip to the immigration office. If Ines didn't come and vouch for me, I'm certain it would have been much, much more difficult. While this doesn't seem so bad (perhaps such bureaucracy is only ruthlessly imposed on immigrants), I think such extensive paperwork is an endemic part of German society. Doctor visits, driver's licenses, work permits, housing contracts...they all seem painfully complex to me. Oh well, you just can't fight the system.

Onto the next, unrelated topic...a short story. Ines and I watched "Bend it like Beckham" on TV a few days ago. It's a Disney movie, so it has a 99% chance of having a predictable happy ending....and that's what happened. Anyways, during the happy climax, two lead characters are kissing, lovingly but not erotically, and rubbing their noses against one another's face. Ines turned to me and said "I want to do this with you". Almost simultaneously, perhaps as the word "want" was escaping her lips, I let out a magnificent sneeze (the hay fever has been nastly of late). As I wiped the snot from my nose, I turned to her and asked if she wanted to reconsider. All she could do was laugh. What is my point? Life is not like a Disney movie, but sometimes it can be funny anyways.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

If I were more creative I could come up with cool lyrics like this...


What are you gonna wear to the impending rapture? -Tub Ring


Spit shine your black clouds. -Blood Brothers


Roaring with whispers, tiny bunnies, those fucking bunnies. -HORSE the band


No prophet has ever been accepted in his own village. -Kaddisfly

Get up off this Wisconsin Death Trip. -Static-X

I was gonna write more, but some seemingly good ideas turn out to have limited substance, i.e. I can recall anything else as I sit here...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

This should be interesting. I drank three biers earlier in the evening and now I'm enjoying a cocktail. It is some orange juice mixed with Mexican booze my sister gave me (a booze for average, poor Mexicans, i.e. something like tequilla but more likely to make you go blind). Anyways, I just spent the last 3+ hrs watching the eurovision song contest. For the amusement of visitors to this blog I will try to write a post about this event without pressing the backspace key. Starting now. Serbia won the event, tak,ign over the poisition from Lordi, last years winners form my adoptemd home land, Finalnd. (man this is terrible after one senctence). Me and everyone that was watching the event with me felt the song was rathger terrible. It wasn't pop, it wasn't rock , what wsa it? I don't know. But I do know that it wasn't too interesting or particularly beuatiful. Actually, Ines and I sent in a votr fro the Ukraine; theyre contestant was a drag quessn the played a eurotrash, 90s dance song (in german, actually). While it was also not a attravctive soneg we gound it more entertaining that the Servian dong. But as usual, our musical tastes are not matched byu the masses. Actually, this was the first time I wastched a full eurovision cong contest. but I imagine that most other ones alwao work like this. The best song doesn't win, but some unexpected song manages to attract the attendion to european voters. For example Loradi did this lats year. Theyre song was not good, but it was new and interasting, so pepole voted for them. While I didn't find the song from servia intersting , others must have, so they voted fro it. This lead s to the essential poroblem of understanding what people like and why.l I don't have this skill; I don't know what people like. What I kilke other people don't, so I wisely never pusued a jo in marketing. But after watching a eurovison contest in which artists try to make people form many different culttures ahappy, I can see how diffecult a job talent scouts have. Ok, at this point I feel that it is prudent to use the backspace button again. So what is the point of this post? Erasers are a necessary tool in writing a coherent post? What do people want in their pop music? Why can't marketing be a backup career for me? No. This post is simply to entertain. As the organizers of the eurovision song contest know, this is easier said than done.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


There's a lot of weird stuff out in nature. Here's an interesting example...ducks, yeah those boring, cosmopolitan waterfowl that old folks like to feed, have bizarre genitalia. Males, for instance, have giant penises. Naturally, they're not on display too often, so few folks are actually aware of this. Recently though an article on the presumable causes underlying this morphology was printed in the New York Times. Forced matings, a.k.a. rape, is common in ducks, so female oviducts seem to have evolved to prevent fertilization occurring during these events. The long phalluses of males are presumably a counter adaptation to the labrythinth like female genitalia. While the sexual selection in Anatid waterfowl is certainly interesting, I was particularly fascinated by this reaction to the article. A NY gossip site put up a blurb on duck dicks, in which some interest was expressed but it was clearly overshadowed by tone of disgust. Actually, I am quite familiar with this type of reaction. Tell "normal" people about something strange in biology and the typical reaction is "ewww, gross". To be honest, this gets a bit tiresome (especially from wise-cracking family members), and it is one reason that I'm reluctant to discuss my work openly. I wonder why this is the case and if this has to be like this. I think part of the problem is that people have an incredible tendency to personify things. Ducks have huge dicks and a third of all matings are males raping females, that's not how it works with people, so this has to be weird and somehow disgusting. I am not saying that these thoughts are conscious, but this type of subconscious logic could definitely be an obstacle to understanding the biological world. I, on the other hand, don't react to "disgusting" biological phenomena like this, but instead I ask why. Why does this look like it does? Why does it operate like that? If there are some reasonable answers to these types of questions, maybe people won't dismiss things as simply gross, but fascinating. So would more scientific education change the way people react to nature? Probably. But would people still react to my parasite stories as disgusting? Yeah, definitely. I just have to accept that the vast majority of the population finds my line of work inherently gross.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Well it has been awhile since a proper post. The combination of thesis writing, German learning, financial planning, occasional exercising, and managing immigration beauracracy hasn't left much time for blogging. I came across this today, and found it to be very interesting. Physicists recently described the largest supernova ever observed. Ok, actually, on the surface this is not so exciting. I mean, how can I be excited when I barely understand what a supernova is? Well, what I do know is that stars explode at the end of their life cycles in dramatic, powerful events dubbed supernovas. Normally, the amounts of energy emitted in such events are indescribable to normal, non-physicist minds. For example, a supernova may emit energy which is equivalent to a hundred billion hydrogen bombs or it may emit that equivalent to a hundred trillion H-bombs. Yeah, I get it, they're powerful beyond imagination. However, this article gave a rather innovative example of how powerful this particular explosion actually was. There is a star relatively nearby (7,500 light years, i.e. traveling at the speed of light, we would need 7,500 years to get there) with properties similar to this recently-described, huge supernova. If it were to explode in a similar fashion, the earth would be bathed in near perpetual light. As the article states, we could read comfortably in the middle of the night. The idea of a star exploding in a distant solar system giving the earth constant daylight, is pretty mind-blowing. Makes ya feel kinda small doesn't it?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I don't laugh out loud very often when reading a band interview, but I had to laugh several times during this interview with HORSE THE BAND. I wonder if anyone can be so crazy or if drugs need to be involved...In other news, I bought the new NIN CD. The CD actually changes color in the heat. Very cool.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Honeymoon phase

Today begins a honeymoon phase. I came back to Leipzig from Finland on Monday and Ines returns from Bonn late tonight. We have not seen each other for over a week, which is the longest we’ve been apart since we moved to Leipzig. This time apart was just long enough to ensure that we’ll start a small honeymoon phase tomorrow. What is the honeymoon phase? It is the time in a relationship when things just feel new, good, and exciting, at least that’s my definition. The relationship between Ines and I has been characterized by numerous honeymoon phases. As with most relationships, our first honeymoon phase started shortly after we met in Finland. Because we came from different countries, different cultures, different academic fields, there was always something indescribably fascinating about our time together. Ines was studying intercultural communication at the time, and quickly found the appropriate term to define this state, i.e. honeymoon phase. According to her textbooks, intercultural relationships are often characterized by a honeymoon phase in which both persons find the other interesting and exotic simply because they come from different cultures. Eventually, the honeymoon phase ends and is replaced by more difficult stages in which cultural bridges must be crossed and communication must be more efficient. Naturally, Ines and I both experienced such cultural and/or linguistic difficulties. But on the positive side, we’ve also had many honeymoon phases. This was largely a consequence of us living in two separate countries for about 1.5 years. When we visited each other about every other month, a new honeymoon phase began. During the limited time of each visit, the everyday annoyances could be ignored and we could just enjoy each other. While this may sound tolerable, a long-distance relationship can’t last forever; moving together or breaking up are the two eventual options. Of course, I’m glad that we represent the former. But I’m also happy that there is still the possibility of some short honeymoon phases every now and then. I suppose it is like many other things in life: there needs to be a good balance. In this case, between spending time together and time apart.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The past few years as I’ve gathered experiences and seen more of the world, I’ve come to support a rather disheartening hypothesis. Economics makes the world go round (not literally, figuratively). I’m of course not the only one of this opinion (stereotypes would suggest all Americans are cold-blooded capitalists), but it does not seem to be an opinion I should hold. After all, I’m a biologist who has never taken a business class or had much interest in money. How did I reach such a conclusion? I guess I just started to notice that many major events, controversies, and conflicts have financial undercurrents. Why did the U.S. win the cold war? More nukes? Hardly. Socialism, in a pure form, just isn’t economically viable, so the Soviet Union collapsed. Interestingly, economics (via high oil prices) is nowadays driving a Russian resurgence in power. What is the source of conflicts in Africa? Groups are fighting for limited resources (Darfur isn’t exactly a farmer’s paradise), not different ideologies. What has fueled China’s rise to near super-power status? Cheap labor fueling an economic explosion. Dido in India. Ok, these are easy examples, and I admit that the idea that “economics drives everything” is a gross oversimplification which ignores a lot of political and moral issues. In any case, I read something the other day that brought this little hypothesis to a much more personal level, and this is what I intended to write when I started this post. The concept of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels has been gaining support of late; turning crops into gas should, naturally, put a dent into carbon emissions. Most people, including me, agree that is a good thing. What I didn’t think about, though, are some of the economic repercussion of this. Increasing biofuel production will increase the demand for these crops driving up their price. That’s economics at its simplest. You may be tempted to now think, I’m not a farmer and I’m not keen on vegetables, so who cares? However, one of the crops being used to produce biofuel here in Europe is barley. Barley is, of course, a necessary ingredient in the production of that most important of fermented beverages, beer. Biofuel production increases, demand for barley increases, barley prices increase, beer becomes more expensive to produce, I pay more for a six-pack. What an unforeseen chain of events, at least for me, the economically clueless. But I think this connection between global warming and beer prices may convince some of the people skeptical of my initial hypothesis.

And for those who are curious, Ines won the March Madness pool. My brother and I were so ashamed, but my dad offered warm congrats.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Over the past few months, I've been devoutly learning the German language. While I'm in not at all "good" or even "ok", I can make it through a simple, slow conversation. In any case, my plight has given me a new appreciation of German and any pop cultural references to it. For example, the pop cultural library that is The Simpsons (best show of all time) made what is probably the most clever reference to a German I've ever heard, and I'll reproduce it here to brighten the day. In the episode "When Flanders Failed", Homer is enjoying the failure of Flanders new store, The Leftorium. Lisa, expecting a higher moral standard from her dad, asks “Dad, do you know what Schadenfreude is?”. Homer, ever annoyed by Lisa's judgmental nature, replies sarcastically, “No, I do not know what Schadenfreude is. Please tell me because I’m dying to know.” Lisa then explains “It’s a German word for shameful joy, taking pleasure in the suffering of others.” Homer responds with “Oh, come on, Lisa. I’m just glad to see him fall flat on his butt! He’s usually all happy and comfortable, and surrounded by loved ones, and it makes me feel…what’s the opposite of that shameful joy thing of yours?”
“Sour grapes.”
“Boy, those Germans have a word for everything.”

Homer is sure right about that. Germans do have a word for everything, at least I feel that way learning vocabulary. Too bad sour grapes isn't one of them.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ok, I don’t want to simply provide yet another update in our little family march madness pool (though I will), so I will present two intriguing moral dilemmas I’ve come across during the past weekend. The first one is presented here, and it deals with the philosophical concept of utilitarianism. It is a very simple moral philosophy: do the actions which bring about the most good for the most people. Seems like it should work pretty well most of the time (c’mon everyone take a piece of the pie!), but there are some counterexamples which show that the theory is not perfect. The classic example is when a morally confused person (i.e. anyone besides religious zealots…they always know what’s right) is confronted with a difficult choice: kill 1 person to save many people. Utilitarianism demands that the unfortunate, innocent person be killed to save the lives of others. People, naturally, have a hard time saying “yeah, no problem, give me the gun and let’s get this ugliness behind us”. It seems our emotions get in the way of cold, hard reason. Take those emotions away, postulated the psychologists and neuroscientists, and you have moral agents acting entirely through reason (I, Robot anyone?). Long story short, this seems to be the scenario in a group of patients with damage in areas of the brain critical for emotional responses. Wild. I find any kind of study that can provide scientific insight into moral questions absolutely astounding. These kinds of questions have been debated for centuries by philosophers, politicians, and religious leaders, but just now are we beginning to understand some of the biological foundations of these issues. Like I said, wild.

The second “dilemma” is for the vegetarians and animal rights activists out there. The American bison, or buffalo, was nearly exterminated by men in the 19th century. At its low point, there were only about 1,000 individuals left; before humans settled N. America the population size was probably in the millions for several thousand years. Nowadays, buffalo numbers are increasing, but not because the great American plains are being restored to prehistoric conditions. Nope, the population is growing because people have developed a taste for buffalo meat. So the moral question thus becomes is it better for a species to go extinct than to be sustained purely for consumption? I got no answer to this one, but I did find it rather intriguing. Maybe it is a good conversation starter for the next vegetarian you meet…

Finally, as promised, the madness update. I was leading our pool through the first 3 rounds of the tournament (from 64 to 8 teams), but then everything went to hell. My predicted champion, Kansas, lost and I ended up only picking 1 of 4 teams in the Final Four (Florida). My dad is now in the lead, and Ines is in second (she picked all 4 teams in the final, unbelievable). I can’t catch either of them. I just have to hope the right teams win, so that I don’t suffer the embarrassment of finishing dead last.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

An update on March Madness. After last Sunday, only 16 teams were left (the sweet 16). I picked 11 of 16, including the quasi-cinderella team (UNLV...the runnin rebels!). So, my brackets are probably the best I've had in years. I'm even leading in the family pool! Of course, by writing this, I'll probably jinx myself...so if Kansas loses in this round (I picked them to win it all, foolishly perhaps), I deserve some of the blame. In any case, I'm looking forward to the madness starting up again tomorrow!

Saturday, March 17, 2007



This post is about an American tradition: March Madness. I will refer to wikipedia to define this annual event. I quote “The NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship is a single elimination tournament held each spring featuring 65 college basketball teams in the United States. Colloquially known as March Madness (as the tournament takes place mainly during the month of March) or the Big Dance (as opposed to the now smaller and less prestigious NIT), the tournament takes place over 3 weeks at sites across the U.S., and the national semifinals (the Final Four) have become one of the nation's most prominent sports events.” So there be the basics, but why is this tournament considered “Madness”? In my opinion, the number one reason for the “madness” is that the tournament is single elimination. You lose, you go home. There are no round robins, no opportunities to play a bad game. Every year, in true David vs Goliath style, some underdog teams will play above their level and knock out some of the best teams in the country. There are always surprises, and they are always exciting. The madness is exacerbated by the fact that an incredible number of people are betting on this tournament. Actually, this gambling is generally accepted, or at the very least ignored. Here is how this works. Before the tournament, one predicts which teams will win each tournament game. One can then put money into a communal pool (often through work or amongst friends), and at the end of the tournament the person or persons with the best brackets wins the money. The consequence of this is that you start cheering for teams you have never heard of nor cared about. Last night, for instance, I was rooting for Winthrop to beat Notre Dame. I don’t even know where Winthrop is. Total madness. Well, yesterday and the day before were the first two days of the tourney, and 64 teams were reduced to 32 teams. In my pool, which is just for pride and mostly composed of my family (my Dad almost always wins), I am currently in first place. I expect that I won’t stay there for long. There's too much madness yet to pass.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From time to time, I check in on the evolution vs. creationism debate. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps, I keep expecting creationists to "see the light", and realize that evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for the biological diversity and phenomena we observe today. Anyone that disregards evolution is ignoring over 100 years of scientific work...which is fine, just be willing to acknowledge that and say that your beliefs are entirely faith-based. I really hate it when people try to mash together a literal interpretation of the bible and scientific reality. Here is a awful example of this from youtube. It seems that some people are convinced that dinosaurs and people co-existed at sometime. Unbelievably, this video has been "favorited" over 100 times. I only managed to listen to this guy for 5 mins, much more and I may have jammed a pen in my ear to dull the pain.

Sunday, March 04, 2007



The lazy blogger

We had a party last night, so I’m not in the best condition today. Thus, instead of trying to write something interesting myself, I’m going to direct you to some cool posts on other blogs. The first is here and is about the capture of an adult colossal squid. Basically it just shows some amazing pictures, so it is good for lazy blog patrons. I’ve added a picture showing the hooks that this beast has in its tentacle suckers, and one showing what these hooks probably do to spermwhales making a meal out of these squids. What an amazing animal; a testament to out vast ignorance of what lives down in the deep oceans. The second post can be found here. It is about some of my favorite critters: parasitic worms. A new molecular phylogeny of the platyhelminthes (flatworms) has been published. Phylogenies are hypotheses about the relationships between species, and they are often built using DNA data. Here the goal was to examine the deep evolution of parasitic worms, i.e. how they evoled a parasitic life style, how they added hosts to their life cycle, and how they radiated in a staggering variety of animal hosts. For lay persons, the post gives an interesting overview of the natural history of these fascinating animals. For parasitologists, there is a surprise at the end of the post…in the re-printed phylogeny, it seems the trematodes, a huge group of parasites, are not monophyletic. I’m guessing it is due to the limited sampling of species in the study, not biological reality, but I will have to actually look up that paper to see if this is how the results were interpreted. I also recommend following the link about the discovery of tapeworm life cycles. Apparently, tapeworms were discovered by a German doctor with the name Kuchenmeister (literal translation: cake master). Good that he didn’t take up the family profession…

Monday, February 26, 2007

I was initially very suspicious about Wikipedia. I mean how well could "internet users" write an encyclopedia, a compilation of tedious academic documents? Actually, after some reports suggested the Wiki entries are approximately as good as actual encylopedias, I started using Wikipedia. Quite frankly, I've become a believer. Wikipedia is a very useful resource. Now people can forget about the validity of the site and start debating new issues such as entry relevancy. Check this out if you are bored. I found it slightly entertaining...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Wormy world

This blog is titled “parasitesandrocknroll”, but it has been awhile since either parasites or rock n roll has been the topic of a post. Well, there was a bit about R n R in the last post (i.e. nine inch nails). Anyways, it is definitely time for a post about parasites! Most people think that maintaining biodiversity is a good thing. We tend to feel bad when things go extinct, with the exception of dangerous diseases like smallpox. Cute or furry animals are especially high on the conservation list. However, if we want to conserve biodiversity as a general goal, regardless of the creature’s charisma, we would more or less be protecting parasites (and by extension their hosts). Parasites easily outnumber free-living species. That can serve as a nice anecdote at your next dinner party…”by the way, did you know that there are more parasitic animals than free-living animals?”. It may impress your friends, though it would probably kill most conversations. Anyhow, let me provide some evidence to back up this claim. Traditionally, species have been determined by noting and describing clear morphological differences between them. Sounds easy, but this can be exceedingly difficult when looking at 2 mm long worms. Nowadays, though, it is relatively cheap and easy to sequence a critter’s DNA and assess whether there is gene flow between different morphotypes (critter’s that look different). Broadly, if there isn’t any evidence of gene mixing, you can be rather sure you have different species. I have two friends/colleagues that work in parasite systematics that have used this approach. The first I knew in Nebraska and examined a particular parasite that had been found in many different fish species…suggestive that it is actually many parasite species. Well, after looking at the DNA, there turned out to be 5 or 6 new, previously unrecognized species. The other friend worked on tropical fish (snappers (pic) check ‘em out) from the Great Barrier Reef. Same story. He examined an understudied group of parasites both morphologically and molecularly, and turned up 11 new species. These stories are definitely not unusual. Parasite species diversity is just grossly underestimated. Think about it this way. There are about 40,000 described species of fish. Each fish species will probably have a few unique parasite species; some will harbor an incredible diversity of parasites. For example, in one fish species in one lake, there may be more than 40 different parasite species capable of infecting it. So how many parasites are there? No one knows, but we can be sure that most animals on this earth are parasites. Indeed, we live in a very wormy world.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Miscellaneous

To follow up on the last post, it seems that the readership of this blog is rather limited. So if nobody reads this, I can treat this blog as a kind of lonely throne, from which I can espouse any kind of vulgary that I please. I could say the most offensive thing in the world without reprisal!! But then, the question arises, what is the most offensive thing in the world? I suppose everyone could come up with some revolting, yet slightly entertaining, idea. Just think about it…

I titled this blog “Misc.”, so to continue with that theme, I’ll move on to a completely unrelated topic: Trent Reznor is an evil genius. I was never a big nine inch nails fan, but I respected and enjoyed some of their music. Well, I have a new found admiration of Reznor’s genius, the brain behind the band. The marketing campaign for NIN’s new album, dubbed “Year Zero”, is absolutely brilliant. First, at recent live shows, fans “found” USB drives in the venue’s bathrooms. On the drives was a new track from the NIN album, and, of course, it quickly circulated around the internet. What a clever and cheap marketing campaign; no need for you Myspace. Even more scary brilliant, though, is this aspect of the marketing. Apparently, on t-shirts sold at the concerts, there is a scrambled message that leads to a particular website describing a government conspiracy to poison the drinking water. The conspiracy deepens from there. There are a whole series of connected websites which present a grim picture of the near future: no civil liberties, a brutal church state, holy war. While the owners of the website nor the label would give away any information about relations between the sites and NIN, Reznor released a brief yet tantalizing statement about the concept behind the new album. Check it out and feel free to get sucked into the conspiracy. It is hard not to admire the unbelievable creativity underlying all this.

Finally, to add to the miscellaneousity (not a word) of this post, I found this article very interesting. It seems that the emotion of sympathy is strongest when associated with a single case or person. That intuitively makes sense; a murder or missing person case of a single, high profile or beautiful person usually makes more news that the multiple larger-scale atrocities going on around the world. To quote a Marilyn Manson song, “The death of one is a tragedy”. So we can strongly sympathize with a single person, yet our feelings don’t scale up to higher numbers. The visceral reaction from the death of 10,000 people or 100,000 people doesn’t really differ. Since I’m a scientist, I’m used to looking at numbers and letting them largely determine my conclusions. So 3,000 Americans have died in Iraq, well over 200,000 thousand have died in Darfur. Shouldn’t I consider Darfur a bigger tragedy worthy of more attention? I think this research suggests that these kinds of questions are not valid. For whatever reason, human emotions are not governed by numbers, so you just can’t rank tragedies. Well, I suppose the conclusion here is that morality issues are incredibly difficult.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Death to the blog

There has been a serious decline in the number of comments on the blog (even those of the perverse and anonymous sort). From time to time, in my more depressive moments, I wonder about the reasons for this trend. Is there no one reading? Are the musings posted here so irrelevant they elicit no response? Did this blog already become dull and uncool? You may be saying to yourself, “c’mon man, the blog was never cool”, and you’d be right. I acknowledge this. What I am hoping, though, is that the blog can maintain a neutral level of coolness, not being described as “lame” nor “bitchin”. Is that too lofty a goal? To be average? I, like so many of us, need reassurance that my aspirations are being achieved, at least a little. Thus, the occasional comment from any devoted readers will reassure me that the blog is at least “average”, and it will keep me from falling into a deep depression induced by blog failure. So to elicit some comments, I present a topic and some examples. Here we go: Ideas that seem good while intoxicated…

-using any pickup line ever conceived
-speaking another language
-calling all the phone numbers in your mobile
-singing karaoke
-singing to your girl- or boyfriend
-opening that bottle of vodka
-quitting your job to become a freelance artist
-writing an animated novel
-starting a pet store
-loaning money to a friend so s/he can start a pet store
-stealing signs or any other kind of petty vandalism
-making pancakes
-sledding
-starting a blog

I’m sure there are plenty of other “good” ideas that are had when inebriated. Please enlighten me and other readers by posting them. And if you can’t think of anything at the moment, perhaps you aren’t in the right state of mind. That’s easily ameliorated though…cheers!

Thursday, February 08, 2007


I´m back!


I wanna say sorry that I haven´t posted anything in the last months. There are several reasons for my absence. 1. I had to study for the final exams (in fact, I still do) 2. laziness 3. I have to do all the decoration in our new apartment.

While Dan is sitting at the dining table studying German (He does that every day in the morning. Just as if he was in class. I´m very impressed.), I go to hardware stores (German: Baumarkt) and buy stuff. With stuff I mean things I would´ve never dreamt of buying. I remember the days when I went shopping with my mum and she wanted to stop "quickly" at the hardware store. We ended up being there for two hours and I was bored like hell. The only thing I was a little bit interested were the posters (boygroups, maps and half naked superblondes). However, now I´m really into hardware stores. Here is just a small list of things I bought in the last weeks: a kitchen sink, a board for the kitchen sink, a small table, loads of screws and dowels, a 100-pieces handcraft set (with hammer, pincers, etc.), wooden bars, curtains, potting soil, etc.

Now I´m getting on Dan´s nerves with my (almost) everday excursions to the hardware store.

You will ask: What are we supposed to learn from this post?

The answer: Don´t even try, you´ll be like your parents anyways?!

No, there´s nothing to learn from it. I just wanted to say, I´m back online and trying to post more details of our glamorous life in Leipzig :)

Take care,

Ines

Wednesday, February 07, 2007





Today, I'm gonna do some free advertising for www.despair.com. The idea of the site/company is to satirize motivational posters or slogans. These "demotivators" present a cynical yet hilarious portrait of human existence, from realms as diverse as the business world to relationships. Here is just a smattering of posters from the site. I think my favorite is "Individuality"...so true.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Nothing like some liberal political cartoons to put things into perspective. The first quip is the best: we keep sending heavily armed 19 year olds, but the violence is increasing! Baffling. Yeah, when you put it like that, it does make a bit more sense...if only in an ironic, cynical kinda way.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Here is a mind-blowing statistic: only 27% of American citizens have passports. Everyone knows the stereotype…Americans are terribly reluctant and perhaps even frightened to leave their country and experience other cultures. While there tends to be a shred of truth in many stereotypes (otherwise why would they exist), I didn’t realize how true this one was. I would have guessed this statistic to be somewhere between 40 and 50%. I apparently overestimated my countrymen’s desire (capability?) to travel abroad. On the other hand, it does explain the occasionally baffling stupidity of Americans concerning events, places, cultures, etc. outside the U.S. Here’s an example from my own personal experience. I was preparing to leave Nebraska and head for Finland, so I was canceling various services, such as the phone, TV, internet, etc. It was typical for these people to ask why I was ending the services, and my reply was always that I was leaving the country. Generally, that was a satisfying answer for most people, but some particularly curious people asked further questions about where I was going and why. After telling one particularly bright service agent that I was going to live in Finland, he gave this bamboozling reply (as best as I can recall): “what, is there a war going on there?” Stereotype confirmed.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

After a few great party experiences with the Singstar videogames, Ines decided that a Playstation 2 was a worthwhile investment. So, since around Xmas we have had a playstation. The only games we had, though, were the Singstar games, and I'm just not in the mood to sing most days (generally my blood alcohol level is far too low). This weekend we decided to experience other PS2 games, so we went to the video store and rented a game called Rayman: Rabid Rabbits. I really don't know the premise of the game, but the object is essentially to complete a variety of mini-games involving crazy rabbits which scream and try to smack you with various household objects, e.g. plungers, spatulas, shovels, etc. In general, I think the game is pretty fun and hilarious. Check out this video on youtube to see some scientific facts about these wacky bunnies. You'll see that the common theme is "they can dance". Awesome.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Forgot the pic for the previous post.
Decorate (in the imperative)

When I moved into my KOAS (student) flat in Jyväskylä 2.5 years ago, it was white, painfully white. The building was only about 2 or 3 years old, so it hadn’t seen much wear and tear, and the current residents weren’t big decorators. However, when I left this fall, there was all kinds of junk up on the walls; the place had taken on a personality of its own. This always seems to happen. I never have any pre-conceived idea of how to decorate a living space, but eventually, with some living, the white on the walls disappears. In other words, in my experience decorations happen, they aren’t planned. After moving into this new flat, though, I’ve realized (and been told) that this is very much a student’s approach to interior design. There can be design schemes, developed around different pieces of furniture, intended to produce various states of being in different rooms. For example, the living room isn’t just the place where the TV should be (like it was in my house). Nope, the living room should somehow have a fun, yet relaxed atmosphere created via its decorations, regardless of the presence/absence of a TV. See what I mean? Decorations are intended to produce different feelings, emotions, fung shui etc…it isn’t just about covering the white of the walls. Though I write as if I actually understand this issue, I would be quite the liar if I claimed full comprehension of the psycology of interior design. I don’t really know what colors induce what feelings, what colors go well together, how furniture may complement wall paper, etc. Think of it this way, I am that male stereotype with poor taste. Because I can’t comprehend these things, it makes it difficult for me to relate to Ines’ desire to decorate things in certain ways. When my opinion is asked, I usually don’t have one, thus my typical, unsatisfactory answer “I don’t care”. This reply is unsatisfactory because, apparently, I’m supposed to know what looks good and why. Moreover, I should have a better answer because I’m decorating my own living space, so it should have a bit of my personality infused into the decorations, right? Well, as I mentioned above, my personality seeps into decorations over time, gradually. It can’t be planned I have never put together a scheme which is somehow an expression of my personal identity nor will I probably ever. Anyways, I’m rambling as if I was charged with the complete decoration of our flat from day 1. This was not the case; it was more or less done for us by two gays friends of Ines. These guys decorated before we even moved in, and before I ever saw the flat itself. In the picture, you get a sample of the creativity they brought to this project. I was pretty nervous about the complete lack of control I had, but overall I think they did a good job (though I can’t say I’m a fan of pastel purple, see pic). From this whole mind-boggling experience of decorating a living space, I’ve learned at least 1 thing: I like symmetrical things and dislike asymmetrical things. Whether this lesson actually helps reduce the stress and confusion involved in the next design project, only time will tell.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My sister sent me this interesting article on the money spent in the Iraq war. No wonder the U.S. is running record deficits. Seems like an economics 101 student could've done a better job managing this thing...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The perils of being offline and writing while distracted

Let's explain the title. Right now, I am watching a Jackie Chan movie on german TV. I don't understand much because everything is in German, but it isn't as if dialogue is integral to any of Chan's movies. Then again, I do miss Chan's fractured English providing occasionally unintended comedy. The point, though, is that I am writing this while distracted, which guarantees that I will jump between topics or trail off, you know how it goes...

Ines and I were talking today about how over the last month or two we have failed to communicate with any number of people we should stay in contact with, e.g. how's so and so? no idea. Though we do have a variety of things consuming our time, the primary reason (besides laziness) that we have fallen out of contact (if you want to put it to that) with different people is that we have not been connected to the internet as frequently in the last weeks (also my excuse for a slow blog). In Finland, whenever I was at home, I was more or less online. In those days, Ines was also online to talk with me. Since we were both online rather often, we chatted periodically with various people. Now, though, I am not online as often because there are other things to entertain me here in Germany besides the internet, e.g. TV, playstation, my girlfriend. And, since I'm right here, Ines can communicate with me directly without the need for messenger. So....I was distracted by a pretty good car chase in the movie and forgot how I was gonna end this post. Maybe I'll just say that Ines and I wonder how everyone is doing even though we don't ask it as frequently as we should.

Next time, I think I'll watch the Simpsons and try to write something without pressing the delete button once. Then we can see how completely incomprehensible life would be without erasers.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


We just returned from NYC and moved into a new flat in Leipzig, but instead of regailing y'all with travel tales or a description of our new flat, I'm just gonna post these two pics of us at the Statue of Liberty. Why would I do that? Because I be too lazy to write a genuine post. But I do have a topic for you, the reader, to consider...which candies are better, M&Ms or Skittles? Who wins the contest of the brightly colored, circular candies?