Sunday, January 30, 2011

And now for some good news

So Kris requested more info about the fellowship I won, and it's about time to bump the break-up post down the page a bit, so here you have it. Working as a scientist in an academic lab is a bit like running your own business. Generally, the institute or university does not provide money for salaries and supplies, it's up to the scientists to bring in their own funding, generally by applying for large grants from places like the NIH but also from private foundations (you know how people do those fundraisers for cancer research and the like? Some of that money does go to researchers like me.) There's no real job security and funding is a constant source of stress. When I was a grad student I didn't personally have to worry about it as I joined a lab with a few years of solid funding, but I saw the way the faculty members in my department constantly worried about financing their research and spent so much time writing grants, the vast majority of which end up getting rejected. I swore to myself that I wouldn't go down that road, that I didn't want that sort of career. But now I've ended up in a situation where I really like my job and my research projects and want to keep them going, so I have no choice but to reluctantly start playing the grants game. I'm fortunate in that my group had some money to get me started and my institute does provide some internal funding for research projects, typically smaller pilot studies that, if successful, can be used to attract more money from external sources. My biggest obstacle is that I'm still very junior and have a lousy CV (I'm not being modest. It's shite.) so my strategy has been to look for smaller awards designed for early career scientists. It helps that my research area is an easy sell: we study pneumonia in children living in developing countries. Now who wouldn't want to support that? I applied for a science and engineering fellowship from the American Australian Association and they ended up awarding me the Morgan Stanley Pediatrics Fellowship for $25,000. Hooray!! It's great news for my project and for my career, as now I'll be bringing in some grant money of my own rather than solely siphoning it off of other people.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Status update

So, I normally don't blog about very personal stuff, partly because, hey, it's personal, and partly because for some reason it feels unlucky. And for a very long time, there wasn't much to write about. I've never been much of a dater and generally feel like being single is part of my nature. I mean, it does allow you to make entirely selfish decisions like "hey, I think I'm going to move to Australia" without having to take anyone else's wants or needs into account. But then I met someone and got into a relationship and I really liked that, too. We had fun, we traveled together, we moved in together, we talked, we laughed, and everything was great. Until it wasn't anymore. And now it's over. Although part of me knows it's for the best, another part of me can't help but succumb to that horrible habit of going through things over and over again in my mind, cataloging all of the things I could have said or done differently. In the end, the why and how of it doesn't really matter, and there's nothing like a Super Hit of the 70's to summarize a break-up.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Australian Open

The Australian Open is taking place in Melbourne right now. To encourage the locals to attend, they offer a weeknight "After 5" ground pass for $20. You can't enter the main stadiums, but during the first week, you can catch a lot of good players on the smaller, outdoor courts. I went twice last week- on Tuesday, I lucked out and got great seats and saw two men's matches; Robin Soderling won his easily, but the second game between the popular French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (pictured) and the German Philipp Petzschner was a lot more exciting. Tsonga lost the first two sets, then went on to tie it up and win the 5th. I had never seen tennis before in person, and it makes a huge difference seeing the players up close- the top men routinely hit the ball over 200 kilometers an hour, and you get a much better sense of how they can curve the ball and the strategy involved. Oh, and to be honest, I never really understood the scoring until my friend who I went with explained it to me, so that helped. I always pictured tennis crowds as somewhat subdued, but that certainly wasn't the case, at least at the Australian Open. People are quiet while the ball is in play, but overall it's a really fun and lively atmosphere with tons of international fans. I went back again on Thursday and watched a women's game between a couple of eastern Europeans. We tried to watch Andy Murray but couldn't get a seat, so ended up sitting on the lawn in front of the big screen instead- on a nice summer night, you can't really complain about sitting outside and drinking wine.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie review haiku

Here are reviews of some movies I've watched recently, in short, poetic format.

I never knew that
Liam Neeson could be such
A fucking badass

Tron is worth seeing
In 3D at the IMAX
If you like neon

The Fantastic Mr. Fox:
Claymation foxes
Are very cute and witty
But the possum rules

The King’s Speech:
Colin Firth stutters
In this royal fam bromance
And Geoffrey Rush helps

Despicable Me:
Wanna-be villain
Adopts three cute orphan girls
The minions rejoice

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Adventures in Strange Fruit: The Durian

The durian is a large tree fruit native to tropical Asian countries but most well known for its pungent odor. How bad do durians smell? Well, in countries where they are popular, it is forbidden to eat them in many public places- Exhibit A: the "No Durian" sign. A travel writer reported the following: "its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.

I've been wanting to try one for ages. What can I say? I'm a glutton for olfactory punishment. I saw them for sale at the local grocery store and picked one up. A few days later, I went to the beach with D and a couple of friends and we brought the durian along. A durian is approximately the size of a human head. They can be somewhat tricky to open, but luckily our group included one experience durian eater, my friend Sook-San from Malaysia. However, when we decided to cut open the was covered in ants!! I rinsed it off in the ocean to get rid of them, which probably looked quite strange to our fellow beach-goers. It had already been notched at the top so you basically peel down the skin into sections that contain large seeds covered in a mushy yellow flesh, akin to some sort of alien organs. Our durian didn't smell too badly- the beach wind helped and apparently durians sold in Australia come from Thailand, and Thai durians are not as stinky as Malaysian ones. I did give it a try and it wasn't horrible but it wasn't very pleasant, either (please refer to my "I just ate a durian" face).

Overall, the taste and smell reminded me of an overripe papaya. I must admit that I was a little disappointed that it wasn't more disgusting. We did get a whiff of the durian's true power a few hours later. I had dumped the durian remains in a garbage bin right after we ate it, and as we were leaving the beach, we lifted the lid of the bin to throw away some more trash and it absolutely stank like something rotten. It was the durian! I guess the smell built up as it sat in the bin (in the sunlight) for a few hours, with no breeze to disperse the smell.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


If having a crush on an animated fox is wrong, then I don't want to be right.


Monday, January 10, 2011

What's cooking

One of my goals this year is to start cooking more, mostly because then I'll have leftovers to take to work and won't have to buy sad hospital cafeteria food for lunch. Here are a couple of dishes I made last week:

1. Paella with Chorizo and Shrimp. It's sort of a cheater's paella, without any chicken or mussels but it was really easy to make and really, really good. I added in half a can of diced tomatoes and some frozen peas to up the veggie quotient, and only used one onion. Can I say that chorizo and I are in love and running away together? Don't tell anyone. It did have a fair amount of kick to it, so you wusses might want to cut down on the cayenne pepper.

2. The Barefoot Contessa's Real Meatballs and Spaghetti. Ina Garten strikes again! For this one, I didn't use veal, because tortured baby cows and all, so I subbed it with extra ground pork. It was fun making the meatballs but the recipe made way more than I anticipated. Not that I'm complaining- I had a meatball sub for lunch the next day and I froze the rest.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Book review: Run, by Ann Patchett

One of the best books I've read in the past few years was Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I also read The Magician's Assistant, which I enjoyed but didn't grab me quite like Bel Canto did. When I learned that she had written a novel called Run that was set in Boston, I immediately bought a copy. Run tells the story of the Doyle family- the father, Bernard Doyle is the former mayor of Boston, whose career dwindled after a messy accident caused by his (now estranged) eldest son, Sullivan. His wife, Bernadette Doyle died many years ago, not too long after the couple adopted two young black boys, Tip and Teddy. However, Run is not a story about race, it's a story about family. Despite Bernard's kindness and devotion to his sons, his hopes and expectations that they follow in his political footsteps are stifling. One accident tore the family apart, and another one brings them together- the Doyles meet a pair of strangers, a woman and her young daughter who, as it turns out, may know them better than they know themselves.

It was fun reading a book that takes place in such a familiar setting- the Doyles live on Union Park in the South End. And Bernard exemplifies my favorite type of politician, the Massachusetts Democrat (yes, the Kennedy family allusions are pretty blatant). I did like the book a lot, however, I felt a little disappointed, like it could have been so much better than it actually was. Something about it came across as a little too contrived, like the characters were characterizations rather than actual people. I guess that's the problem about writing an amazing book like Bel Canto- nothing else can quite live up to it.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Adventures in Gippsland

After Christmas, D and I spent a few days touring around the Gippsland region of Eastern Victoria- a farming region along the coast that is also the home of Wilsons Prom (short for Promontory; it's a national park, not a high school formal). We spent a day at the park itself, which is really beautiful- they say the landscape resembles New Zealand. Although I had imagined myself lounging on the beach, it was extremely windy and quite cool, even though it's the middle of summer. We hiked along the coast for a bit to check out some of the views, and then went inland to look for animals. No wombat sightings, nor the elusive echidna, but we did stumble upon a mob of emus. "Mob" is the collective noun for emus- it's no parliament of owls, but it will do.

The rest of our time in Gippsland was spent cruising driving around checking out waterfalls, wind farms, and tiny costal towns. We also played a round at The Saddest Mini Golf Course in The World- a dingy course at a caravan park, complete with a dead bird on one of the putting greens. It was so bleak one couldn't help but laugh. Overall, it was nice to get out of the city for a few days and see a new (to me) part of the country.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

TV recommendation: Battlestar Galactica

I was going to start this blog post by stating that I'm not normally a science fiction fan, but that's not entirely true. I mean, I love Star Wars (except for those crappy new ones). And I did watch Lost. But I've never been able to sit through 2001: A Space Odyssey without falling asleep, and as for spaceships in general, hey, I can take them or leave them. However, given how much I loved Battlestar Galactica I may have to start self-identifying as a science fiction fan, or at least a fan of space dramas. I do recall watching a couple episodes of the original when I was a little kid, but somehow the new version that ran on the Sci-Fi (aka SyFy) channel from 2004 to 2009 slipped under my radar...or, shall I say, dradis (let the nerdy in-jokes begin!). Maybe because I didn't have cable. Good thing you can get TV shows on DVD now and watch them at your own pace.

A few months ago I started watching Battlestar Galactica, and I was hooked from the start. The premise is fairly straightforward- in a galaxy far, far away, humans invented robots called Cylons to serve as worker drones, and the Cylons eventually rebelled against the humans and disappeared. Forty years later they returned with a vegenance- dropping nuclear bombs in a surprise attack that decimated the human population and renedered their home planets uninhabitable. Now the surviving humans live on spaceships, on the run from the Cylons and searching for a new homeland, led by the sole remaining military ship, the trusty old Battlestar Galactica. Oh, and the Cylons have evolved and can look like people. And some people are Cylons and don't even know it. And some of them are on the battlestar! So yeah, there's plenty of shooty action stuff, but what makes the show great is the writing, the acting, and especially the characters. A friend of mine had recommended the show to me a while ago, saying that it had the best kick-ass female character of all time (Starbuck), who does indeed rule, although my personal favorite lady is the President. Oh, and there are plenty of hot dudes. (Hello, Helo.) And Edward James Olmos!

I just finished the last episode of the fourth and last season, and although I enjoyed the ending, it was bittersweet as now I don't have anymore episodes left to watch. One thing's for sure, and the finale really cemented the point- Lost was a piece of crap compared to BSG! If you're looking for something to keep you entertained for several months, I highly recommend giving Battlestar Gallactica a try. I like it so much that I'd go to a convention. So maybe I am a science fiction fan, after all.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

2010: A Year in Review

I must say, 2010 was a banner year here at DCoE. After finally finishing grad school at the end of 2009, I was in need of a fresh start and I got one- new country, new job, new apartment, new manfriend. Considering I moved halfway across the world to a city where I knew exactly no one, it's worked out quite well.

Here's my 2010 in review:

Song of the Year: Dog Days are Over, by Florence + the Machine (right click and save as). I think it was technically released in 2009 but I didn't hear it until 2010. The girl can wail. I dig it.

Movie of the Year: Kind of a slow year for movies, in my opinion (although I haven't seen the latest releases, like The Fighter, yet). I'd have to say that my favorite of the year was Animal Kingdom, a crime drama set in Melbourne, complete with the creepiest, most evil grandmother to grace the screen in a long time. Jackie Weaver deserves an Oscar nomination at the very least. And it also stars my...

Celebrity Crush of the Year: Guy Pearce. He's just I mean, not everyone can play a both a tattooed, vengeful amnesiac and a flaming drag queen.

TV Addictions of the Year:
True Blood and Battlestar Galactica.

Places I visited in 2010:

Munich, Berlin, Dresden, and Weiden in der Oberpfalz, Germany

Vienna, Austria

Sydney, Canberra, Magnetic Island, Surfer's Paradise, Hobart, Freycinet Penninsula, Scottsdale, Sunshine Coast, and Darwin, Australia

Technological Breakthrough of the Year:

My first smart phone, an iPhone 4. I also learned how to make a heart on Facebook- just type <3.

Best Mode of Transportation:
a bicycle- I hadn't owned a bike in over ten years, and now I ride one to work every day and I love it!

Shocking/most awesome injury of the year:
The black eye I got from knocking heads with a soccer opponent. It looked worse than it was.

I know I was pretty crap at posting for the past year, but I miss blogging and one of my goals of 2011 is to spend more time doing it. Another one is to blog more. As always, thanks to everyone who still stops by DCoE from time to time, especially those of you who leave comments. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

Update! How could I have forgotten this category? Thanks for the reminder, Timm.

Most Commented Post of 2010:
A tie, with two posts racking up 14 comments each. The book giveaway and...DCoE Field Trip: Adventures in Building 19.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Christmas bon bons

Towards the end of November, decorative paper tube thingies started appearing in stores all over the place. I saw a box of them labeled as "Christmas crackers" so I assumed they were packs of some sort of holiday cracker/biscuit/cookie/fruit newton. However, when I asked my coworkers about them, they were all amazed that I hadn't seen them before and informed me that they are not cookies at all, but rather a sort of Christmas tradition known in Australia as a bon bon. You put them on the table at Christmas dinner, and two people grab an end each and pull it apart, wishbone style. And guess what's inside? A toy, a paper hat, and a printed joke. Weird, right? The jokes are notorious for being super lame, but I kind of liked mine:

Q: Why was Cinderella so bad at football?
A: Because her coach was a pumpkin.

Waka waka.

Here's an action photo of D's parents cracking the bon bon (not a euphemism) and another of us modeling the paper hats.