Sunday, May 25, 2008

When I was 12 or so, I tried out for a 'select' basketball team for the first time. A select team was composed of the best 10-12 players out of all the kids trying out, unlike the teams in which everyone could play no matter how terrible they were. This was how I crossed paths with a real basketball guru, Herb Welling. Herb was my coach for the next 2 years, before I went to high school and joined the school team. He was not a stereotypical coach; he was a big guy who, as far as I could tell, rarely held down a steady job. Nonetheless, he probably knew more about basketball than anyone I ever came across. As a team, we were a mix of urban and suburban kids, and we definitely did not belong to the elite teams of the city. Like most of the basketball teams I ever played for, we didn't have a winning record (hmmm, maybe that’s why I’m not in the NBA…). Herb got us involved in urban (=black) leagues deep in N. Omaha. Playing against the inner city teams was a great experience. Basketball games there were not just a competition, they were a community gathering where people could yell, hoot, holler and make any noise they wanted. It was like the stereotypical black-white difference in the expression of religious faith (bombastic versus solemn) was transferred to the basketball court. Herb also got me to five star basketball camp. Five star is a set of week-long summer basketball camps that take place all over the country and attract some of the best high school players around. Herb was always involved in the camp in some way or another. He wasn't really a coach there, more of an assistant, helping out wherever necessary. I got the impression that he just wanted to be there so as to soak up the atmosphere. With his blessing, I went one summer to the five star camp. I just remember bits and pieces of my week there. I remember being tired the whole time (it was outdoors in Virginia in summer...brutally hot and humid). I remember the 'all-star' game at the end of the camp. The best players in the camp (better and more athletic than I could ever hope to be) had a dunk fest. It was amazing. I wish I still knew the names of these players, because most of them were gonna end up playing for D1 colleges. I also remember being rather terrified and intimidated the whole time, a feeling of inadequacy that is not too different from my current stay at Max Planck. Back to Herb, he is currently enjoying his moment in the sun. A new type of dribble drive offense, which appears quite chaotic at first glance, was making waves in the coaching community. Herb, being the junkie that he is, figured out this offense by endlessly watching video tapes. Then, he made an educational video demonstrating the offense using teenagers from Omaha Central. That video is the hottest selling basketball video on the net. His video sells more copies in a week than famous coaches like Roy Williams and Bill Self sell in a month. Amazing. Here’s the story from the Omaha newspaper. I almost want to buy the video based on how Sports Illustrated described Herb. In the video he wears a purple t-shirt and the well-known magazine compares him to Grimace, the McDonalds figure. Funny, but maybe not worth the 80 bucks for the video.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hiring someone seems like a trivial task, but lately I have discovered how difficult a job this really is. A few weeks ago we posted an advertisement for the PhD position that we hoped would have been filled a few months ago. Curious readers can check the ad out here. So, the past weeks, I’ve been receiving CVs in my email inbox. Most of them are rather good, yet not outstanding. That is what makes this so difficult…how can you differentiate all these people with good grades and varied experience in research? Somewhat unexpectedly, the majority of the applications are from East Asia, mostly India, but also China and Pakistan. These applicants have respectable CVs…but in the wrong field. Most of these people are working in applied fields like molecular biology and biotechnology; none of them seem to have much background in evolution. So why would they be interested in my basic research? My only conclusion is that they desperately want to come to work in the west. Though this probably sounds prejudice, I doubt I’ll give them that chance. I think I could only hire someone after actually meeting and talking with them. This is only reasonable, because I’ll be working closely with this person for the next couple few years. Next week, I think I’ll make a short list and try to invite some people to give talks. We’ll see how that goes…

A miscellaneous addition to this post, I watched a great movie last weekend, Bubba Ho-tep. This is a strange, yet awesome movie, and it happened to be on TV last night when I came home from Edgar’s Cocktail bar (“hippest” bar in Plön). The story is brilliant. Elvis is not dead; his impersonator is. Elvis stopped performing after his career peaked, let himself be replaced by a gifted impersonator, and then lead a quiet life outside of the limelight. Now, he is stuck in a Texas retirement home, depressed, impotent and waiting for death. What could bring back a little rock n roll back into his life? A soul sucking mummy. Yeah, awesome. As residents start dying in their sleep, Elvis teams up with Jack to stop the mummy and thus be free to die with an intact soul. Jack is a black retiree living in the home, who believes he is JFK (they painted me this color!). More awesome. Elvis is played by Bruce Campbell, a cult hero for his performances in Evil Dead and Army of Darkness. It comes highly recommended from me (as if that meant anything).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I think we skipped spring here in Germany. A couple weeks ago, I made the yearly decision to switch from wearing my winter coat to wearing my rain jacket. This is always a tough call…is it gonna stay warm enough or is it get really cold again? This year, though, I seem to have switched directly from a winter jacket to no jacket at all. As soon as I began to wear my rain jacket, it was so warm that coats of any kind became unnecessary. So, I ask, what happened to spring? Not that I’m complaining, the warm temperatures are enjoyable (though they also hamper productivity…who wants to work when the sun is shining?). It is just peculiar to go from a winter jacket to t-shirts in a matter of weeks. I expect those kinds of apocalyptic weather swings in Nebraska (they had quite a nasty snow storm a few weeks ago and now it is tornado season), but not in boring, predictably dismal N. Germany.

In any case, with warm weather, people begin to strip off their layers of clothes, making their figures more and more visible. Most of my adult life, I have inhabited so-called college towns, in which a substantial part of the population was rather young. Thus, at the risk of sounding chauvinistic, summer was always a pleasant time of year to observe women in far more revealing outfits than one was accustomed to after a long winter. Now, though, I am living in Plön…population 13,000, hardly anyone between the age of 20 and 30, and a disproportionate number of people over 60. Not much to get excited about. In fact, in my subjective opinion, I find the residents of Plön to be rather unattractive. Maybe in small towns there is less incentive to stay fit or to wear clothes bought in the last decade. I could imagine that there is a real relationship between average attractiveness and city size...though I’m too lazy at the moment to search the literature databases for such a study.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

For any parasitologists (or science enthusiasts) who happen to read this, I am posting this link to a recent paper on which I am a co-author:

I really can't believe we got this experiment published in Proc. B. So, out of pride, I felt compelled to post this.
One great thing about Germany is the overabundance of holidays. They have not given up their religous holidays, even though, like most West European countries, the population is relatively secular. In the U.S., it seems like we just forgot about a lot of holidays, probably in the name of productivity. There were actually two holidays in Germany on Thursday, himmelfahrt (religious holiday) and labor day (secular). Labor day here is something like a father's day, in that men can do whatever they want, and, not surprisingly, they want to get wasted. Traditionally, groups of men carry around cases of beer on carts, all the while drinking and being merry. In Finland, the first of May is also a labor-day of sorts called Vappu. However, the workers are not the only ones celebrating on Vappu. High school students are graduating, and they wear horrendous white hats to mark that achievement. So how do many Finns spend their labor day? They pull out their old white graduating caps and get obliterated. It might be the number one drinking holiday in Finland, though a lot of boozing happens on midsummer as well (secret confession, I did not drink on either of the two Vappus I spent in Finland...oh, the regrets). So, after experiencing labor day in both these countries, I have to ask myself, why is the American labor day such a sober holiday? That social stigma associated with alcohol in America just won't go away, even on holidays. If anyone is curious, I spent my labor day in the lab. I started an experiment a while ago that involves daily duties, namely checking to see if my animals survived the previous night. Though parasites are cool study organisms, they unfortunately are not great drinking buddies, so my labor day was a sober one.