Monthly Archives: January 2011

Procrastination

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I think (most) people who defend their PhD thesis actually deserve two titles.

A degree in whatever subject they spend 4+ years on studying.

And a PhD in procrastination.

I myself am surprised I still haven’t received tenure for a procrastination position, since I have perfected the art of procrastination and single handedly brought it to a whole new level. I rarely answer an e-mail within 24 hours. Just because. If it is an unwanted one I might just plain ignore it. I take the day off to avoid running into my PI. I would rather die from backpain than having to admit that 50kg bag is really too heavy for me, but if my hand hurts even a little I promptly decide I cannot do dishes, laundry or any other household work for a week.

Ok, some of this might be pure avoidance. But still.

I took last Friday off because I had a mail from my former PI to discuss the articles I still have to finish from my PhD which I defended almost a year ago – I wanted to work non-stop on those for 3 days. I also had to clean the apartment, do shopping, think about a project for a research grant due end of this month, and make a schedule for the work that needs to be done for my current project. To begin with.

So here’s what I did: I watched 2 seasons of Dexter, went out to Copenhagen on Friday night and booked a trip to Iceland.

Oh, and I got my sequencing results, which were perfect. Except for the fact I discovered my primers were wrong. If you don’t know what this means, let me translate: the past 5 long, boring, repetitive months of experiments (which shouldn’t have taken longer than a month tops to begin with) were in vain because I misdesigned one of the basic ingredients.

And thus I took today off too (PI avoidance…). And watched half a season of House.

All this to say that I’ll be laying low on the blog-front in the near future, trying to break my procrastination habit and get some stuff done, so as to feel less of a failure (please, don’t even try to say I’m not. I designed the primers. I did the experiments. Blaming this on anything else is nothing short of denial.). I had prepared some posts around the Chinese New Year coming up, I’ll see if I’ll be able to finish them. And after that, you might help me get some ideas for a career change.

Le plat pays mais pas le mien

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It is easy to be nostalgic – to think back of earlier times when “everything was better”. But somehow I can’t help but think things wére better before. At least, before, Belgian politicians were capable of forming a government. Of making compromises.

Tomorrow, hopefully, 10,000s of people will flood Brussels to ask for… well… something. A government. An agreement. Progress. Light at the end of the tunnel. Almost 23,000 people have RSVPd “yes” on the Facebook page of the event (another 25,000 voted “maybe”) – for an improvised demonstration organized by students in the middle of an exam period this is, to Belgian standards, quite impressive. Whether this will actually change something, is an open question, though judging on the past 223 days I’m guessing: not much.

Because it has been 223 days. 223 days ago, we had federal elections. 223 days ago, the north and the south of the country each chose their winner. Unfortunately, their colors couldn’t have been more opposite: left in the south, right in the north. To make things easier, this government will need to reform part of the constitution and thus needs a 2/3 majority, resulting in no less than 7 parties involved in negotiations. We are quick to judge the US and its 2-party system, but having 14+ parties (only counting the ones that get a voice in tv debates) isn’t exactly the solution either.

So what is going on?

Do you really want to know?

I suggest you take a course – because I sure as hell don’t have a clue.

Belgian catfight.

The north wants more responsibilities for the regional governments. The south wants things to stay the way they are.
The south wants more money for Brussels. The north thinks Brussels should generate its own income.
The north wants to tackle some unconstitutional election issues. The south wants to go along if there are compensations (since this will likely result in less votes for southern parties).
The south wants more rights for French-speaking people who live in the Dutch-speaking north (get their administration letters in French etc). The north feels they should just adapt and learn Dutch. Somehow, everything is brought down to the difference in language.

And (a small, very small) part of the north is sick of the south and wants to solve it all through independency. Unfortunately, it is their party that (for other reasons) won the elections. In other words: any compromise that all parties agree on will be necessarily a defeat for this party because it is not independency.

What I find most amazing is that when polls are held to measure current voting behavior (once in a while the option of new elections is mentioned), the same parties win. Worse: they increase their influence. Because people appreciate that, for once, the politicians try to keep their full electoral promise instead of compromising – an art Belgian politicians have perfected in the past. That meanwhile unemployment is rising, an increasing amount of people end up in debt, our social security system creaks under the rising cost of medical expenses for the elderly, environmental issues aren’t dealt with, speculation on the future of Belgium causes interest rates to skyrocket, … is rather unimportant. Politicians are standing their grounds. And nobody moves.

But now, finally, after 223 days, after breaking the European record government formation (207 days, sometime in the 70s, the Netherlands) and well on our way to break the world record (249 days, last year, … Iraq (!)), the lethargic Belgians have woken up from their sleep and decided to stand up. Call out for movement. For action. I hope tomorrow’s demonstration will bring many people to our capital. I hope it will be peaceful, and serene. And by all means – I hope it will help.

Paranaue, paranaue, parana

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I am a bit late in posting today – partly because the week has become less ‘blue’ (my barcode labels arrived – yey! I might have a 4th mutant – yey! my mug is back – yey yey!), and partly because I’m tired.

Although, thinking about it, I can’t be that tired… otherwise I would be sleeping already, right?

So I’m not all tired. I’m partly tired. Locally tired. More precisely, inner leg tired.

See yesterday I followed a German colleague of mine to Capoeira classes. To those who are not very familiar with this form of dance/martial arts: capoeira originates in Brasil, where the slaves developed a way of dancing which allowed them to simultaneously train their fighting skills without their owners recognizing it as such.

For those who haven’t been around too long – I love dancing. Currently lindy hop, mostly, but I have been caught belly dancing, hip hopping, ballroom dancing and even jazz and ballet’ing. On top of that, I’m a massive Portugal-freak. I adore the country, I love the language, and I have nothing but the warmest feelings for its inhabitants. Granted, Brazil is not Portugal – but they speak Portuguese (sort of … lol), so I’ll take it ;).

Still, I wasn’t sure if I would like capoeira. To be frank, I still don’t know. All in all, it is a very confusing sport: you play ‘against’ each other in the roda, where you move together, almost duet-like, while simultaneously attacking and ducking – but no points are measured. The more advanced capoeiristas did seem to touch one another, almost playfully, here and there, like saying : I could’ve got you there, but I won’t – but in general you are not supposed to literally hit each other. And if you do, you apologize. (Polite martial arts, who knew?)
Although our leader (I don’t think he’s an official mestre) said we did all very well in the roda, really, I have no clue what I was doing :D. We learned one kick during class, and 2 ducks (ducking is important), apart from that I was wiggling about a little bit on the music, trying to look a bit… well… as if I knew what I was doing ;). I’ve never been good at faking though… lol.

But I’ll be back! 90 minutes of free sport and a chance to learn something new and get to know some other people in the process, that can’t go wrong, now, can it? ;) The only annoying thing is I still haven’t regained full use of my left hand (I fell with Ts bike: my right knee looks like rainbow and I couldn’t lift a cup of coffee with my left hand for a week. I’m up to around 2 kgs at the moment, though, so things are definitely improving ;) ) – and since capoeira involves some nice acrobatics, I’m forced to skip these… for now. I look at the bright side, though: on way less to make a fool of myself!

(and… ahum… I now officially have a ‘sports’ category!)

Has anyone seen …

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Apparently, there is something about Mondays in the last week of January. They’re blue.

Who knew?

Blu Monday, which occurs during the last full week of January, is supposed to be the most depressing time of the year because, generally, one or more of the following occur: a) the weather sucks; b) New Year’s resolutions have failed; c) motivation is at an all-time low since the next holiday is SO far away; and d) the Christmas tree has gone. The exact formula, by Cliff Arnall, is total nonsense, as is the concept – but you have to admit it has a nice ring to it and since there is nothing new to report (in Belgium the government is … still non-existent, the floods … are still there, the flu … also), it makes for a good easy-read article.

Now, some say Blue Monday was yesterday. Others say it is next week. I say: it’s a whole bloody Blue Week. (and yes, I can tell only 2 days down the road)

The reason may seem elusive: the weather is nice, I’m keeping up with my New Year’s resolutions (moaning: check!) and my Christmas stars (didn’t have a tree) are still dangling in front of the window.

But. Something is missing. And I know exactly what.

One like this. But pink. And prettier. (image via http://www.artfulcookie.com)

In case anyone was wondering why I refer to my girlfriend as “T” (you didn’t really think that was the first letter of her real name, did you?) – I call her Tinkel. Or Tink. Or Tinkerbell. What – she’s blonde!
I got this mug from a friend when I came here so I would have ‘my Tink’ always with me (corny, I know, but what can I say? “Corny” is my middle name …). And up until Christmas break, I did. My faithful hot chocolate coffee mug went wherever I went and I never left her alone, not even in the dishwasher.

But then I did.

And somebody took her.

And despite checking both dishwashers and all the cupboards 3 times a day, she remains missing.

So if my productivity level the past week is any indication of how poorly I function without my mug, you better give it back ASAP. Otherwise I’m afraid my project will have to be cancelled.

Music was my first love…

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Outside, the snow is falling once again and I can’t help but being mesmerized – I could watch snow falling for hours. I’m not sure what it is about it but it calms me down, it’s soothing to see all those little flakes slowly piling up, decorating trees, and roofs, and us.

People back home asked whether I wasn’t tired of the snow yet. Do they ever get tired of the green grass, the summer sun and the fresh flowers? Then why should I get tired of this white blanket that undoes all the little imperfections in the landscape, and shimmers and shines in the morning sun? No, I haven’t got tired of the snow yet. I’m pretty sure I’ll miss it next year.

Though I’ll forget, of course.

See, I’m an out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of person. It is sad, sometimes, but that’s how I am. I can not hear from my parents or sister for weeks, and not a thought about them will cross my mind unless they contact me. It’s not that I don’t like them, or don’t care about them – I do. I just… seem to have a head full of other stuff. It’s the same with friends. Or work. Or anything else. I don’t see you, you won’t hear from me – it’s not written down, it won’t get done.

I forget.

And one of the forgotten things was my accordion. Well, not completely forgotten, obviously, since I did bring it with me to Sweden, in some feeble attempt to start playing again. It didn’t happen. I didn’t have the time and I didn’t feel like making it, either, to be honest.
Until last week, my sister’s best friend (which happens to be my best friend’s sister) called to ask if I would be willing to play the accordion at her wedding.

Ehm. Well. I guess… eh… yes?

Only – I haven’t played in 18 months. And I’ve only had the thing for a little over 3 years, so it’s not like I can just pick it up and start where I left – I didn’t have much in the first place. But I promised I’d try.

And I’m having so much fun!

It’s frustrating and all, obviously – I was never very good at it in the first place and it takes TIME to master a song, so after half an hour I generally call it a day, but boy how could I forget? Being able to play an instrument was a life-long dream (I wasn’t allowed to go to music school as a kid) so it was one of the first things I did once I graduated – it is just so great to be able to push the right button at the right time and hear the melody, coming out of yourself, as it were. How I could forget thís feeling I don’t know, but I’ll bet ya it won’t go away any time soon!

My precious...

Bad intentions

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Because you really know you won’t be keeping the good ones anyway…

  • Moan
    I plan on doing a lot of moaning in 2011. And I mean, A LOT. With 5 weddings and 4 baby-due-dates on the calendar and an overdose of hormones in my body, I feel I’ll have loads of inspiration to nag to T about when WE will be moving in together (rough estimation: in 10 years) / have babies (she’s waiting until my ovaries have dried out so she can carry them, I feel it) / get married (never). Fun times ahead ;).
  • Fly
    Lately I’ve been obsessing about my ecological footprint – I mean, worse than usually ;). So once I found out my attempts to vegetarism are futile if I keep flying back and forth between home and work, I decided I wouldn’t be flying anymore. Only, I would love to see the aurea borealis (alternative: 24h train ride). And Iceland (alternative: 3-day boat trip). And the whole of Scandinavia. So despite my climatological worries, I’m pretty sure the comfort and speed of a plane will be preferred here or there… . Now, where’s that tofu?!
  • Spend money
    On flights, obviously :D. And grabbing drinks. Presents for the people back home. Trips everywhere. Eating out. Fun times. Hey, I’m only gonna be here a year, I gotta enjoy it while I can! Besides, interest on savings accounts is historically low, I’m better off enjoying it. Let the money roll!
  • Get a taste of pot
    In case you’re a police officer: I’m not serious about this ;). I’ve never smoked or done any drugs at all in my life – whenever I drink alcohol my friends take a picture of it because it’s considered a rare occasion which should be captured for future reference. You could think I’m a nice girl but really, I just hate to lose control. Still, my curiosity is bigger than my hate, and just once, I’d like to know what it feels like. So I need to get my hands on some space cake. Well, my colleague is Dutch …
  • Indulge
    Give yield to temptation, it may not pass this way again.” I’ve had breakfast on Belgian chocolate and gingerbread for 2 days now – now thát was good. I am in the luxury position that I can eat more or less what I want without it sticking in unwanted places and I plan to make full use of that advantage now since, judging by my mother, it will not always be like this. Anyone seen my dessert book?

 
Have you made any resolutions you know you won’t keep? Which (big or small) sins are you planning to commit this year?

So, did everybody survive the holidays?

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I know I did! Though they’re not really over yet, so I guess I should hold wood and not scream too loud ;).

But the real, BIG holidays are over – and it was all good. After my hi-tech science Christmas Eve, I made it home, though “are you kidding me?” flashed through my mind when the pilot announced the following 10 minutes after boarding was complete.

Dear passengers, we are currently unable to refill the fuel tank of the airplane. We have tried two tank trucks so far, but there seems to be a problem. We are trying to find out whether the problem is the tank trucks or the plane, we are working on it and will keep you posted.

After everything that could’ve gone wrong (no trains, delayed trains, hand luggage too big/heavy (it really was – fortunately for me, they didn’t check), delayed flights, cancelled flights), you can’t fill up the tank?? But they solved it, we left, I came home to a freshly-made quiche (I really don’t get what the big fuss over in-laws is, mine are just great), we played games, I slept, we went to my parents’, confused hell out of my one grandmother who met T for the first time and doesn’t seem to get that she is my girlfriend and not my girl friend (I refuse to have that talk with her and my mum has just passed the stage of being able to pronounce Ts name, no help there), celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends and didn’t even get out of the couch for the countdown (ooooooooooold…), celebrated New Years’ at both grandmas and my parents, got tired of repeating the same stuff about Sweden over and over again, got tired of talking about baby-stuff, went to a birthday party, got crazy from all the small kids running around there (really, I don’t know where my nesting syndrome comes from), had a misunderstanding with T about shopping together leaving me home alone all day, … . So basically, nothing particularly blog-worthy happened ;).
Next up: shopping with my sis, meeting with some friends, celebrating Ts birthday, count down the days and get my ass back to Sweden. 4 days of holidays left … .