Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sie sind sehr groß!

So I went to order a pizza for Jenny and me from the pizza place near my house. I don't like to order by phone, so I usually go in and wait for it to be ready. It's only 5 or 10 minutes. Anyway, last night the proprietor (I think) of the establishment brought me some tea while I waited, and the following conversation ensued. Everything is translated from German, except the mistakes that I make when I speak.

Pizzaman: Hello, are you American?

Emily: (smiles) Yes.

Pizzaman: Ahhh. (nods) How big are you? (note: in German, there's only one word which means both big and tall)

Emily: 185 cm

Pizzaman: (eyes widen) Wow! That's really big! What do you do here?

Emily: I work at the university. I'm a scientist. A chemist. (note: I mean, I'm in the chemistry department, and explaining more is beyond my abilities)

Pizzaman: And how long have you been here?

Emily: Almost one year.

Pizzaman: How much longer will you stay?

Emily: One more year.

Pizzaman: And then you'll go back to America?

Emily: (shrugs) I think. But I don't really know.

Pizzaman: (laughs) Maybe you'll meet a man, and then you'll stay in Germany.

Emily: (hesitant) Perhaps...

Pizzaman: Everything's clear. (goes back to making pizzas).

The point of this post is threefold. First, the fact that a German made small talk with me is fascinating enough for me to write a blog about it. In all fairness, I would guess that the man was of Turkish descent, so he may not have been a German citizen. Second, I need to point out that it's taken a year for me to get to the point where my German is good enough to have this conversation. And third, if you are German and should ever journey to the U.S., you should never ever ask a woman how big she is. This is considered rude. I'm not sure about that man comment. If the guy hadn't been old I might have thought he was hitting on me. But German rules for flirting continue to escape me, so it's difficult to tell.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How much is Public Radio worth to you?

So I'm listening to Atlanta's public radio station online - Weekend Edition Sunday, actually - and it's the spring fund drive. The alarming thing is that I'm finding it sort of comforting.

The whole NPR pledge drive conjures a very strong image of my old bedroom on a weekend morning. The sunlight filtered through the blinds, making the dust in the air visible. I used to turn on NPR, go make coffee, and sit in bed listening to Scott Simon or Liane Hanson. I'd drink my coffee and eat an everything bagel, toasted, with peanut butter.

I wonder if anyone is sleeping in that room now?

Anyway, I've known for a while that I've got a problem, since every year I get really into the pledge drive and find myself rooting for them to reach the goal. If you listen to the radio stream on the main NPR website you don't hear the pledge drive, so it's sort of an interesting surprise for me to hear it today.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Sorry I've been bad about posting of late. But now both my temporary undergrad student (Sophie) and my friend (Tracey) are gone, and I've got time/feel less guilty about writing blogs in the lab. Hopefully Tracey will send me some pictures and I'll do a post about our adventures in Germany (that is, if she survived the plane ride home - are you still alive Tracey?), but in the meantime I have something even better to share with you.

Sarah sent me a package. It contained a box of girl scout cookies (which shall remain unopened until Easter), a book light, and (best of all) a Snuggie! Here I am, wearing it in my lab.

Over Christmas, I was drawn in by the infomercials for the snuggie. See, it's a blanket that has sleeves. How brilliant is that? And the people in the infomercials seem so happy! They can read and knit and everything - but their arms don't get cold.

Here, I'll show you:

Her arms look really warm, don't you think? Anyway, I think that of all the packages I've ever gotten in the lab, this one has inspired the most jealousy. And amusement.

And, since I've come down with Tracey's cold, the snuggie will be particularly useful during my convalescence. My plan is to go home after my meeting this afternoon and hand around drinking hot tea in my snuggie.

Thanks, Sarah! It's an awesome present.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Genetic Poetry

I read this story a couple of days ago, and for some reason it's stayed with me. Nature recently published a little article that this guy, Christian Boek, who wants to encode a poem in the DNA of a bacterium.

He's not sure which poem - I think that it has yet to be written, but he wants it to encode a functional protein. He says "Poets are always trying to write works that ‘come alive’ — but I’m trying to write a poem that literally is a living thing."

I sort of like this idea. It's sort of like a message in a bottle. He's writing something in the DNA of a bacterium and throwing it out to sea (although I guess this bacterium can never leave the lab) an maybe someday someone will read the message and think "hey, look, a poem protein. Cool." Or maybe they'll think something more profound.

Probably, though, no one will ever be able to read it. But there's something sort of intriguing about this poem copying itself over and over even if no one can appreciate it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


This weekend we had Schwartzbiernacht here in Jena. For those of you who don't speak the beautiful language of Deutsch let me translate: Schwartzbiernacht means black beer night in English. One of the charming things about German is that nouns get stuck all together with no spaces. Like "doghouse" or something in English, but on a much larger scale.

So on Schwartzbiernacht all of the bars, restaurants, and other establishments in the city have bands, and if you buy a ticket you can go see all of them. It's great fun. Especially because of the great diversity of bands.

Some of the things we saw included: the worst cover band in the world, Russians playing surf music, Germans playing Irish folk music, and a Rockabillyish band playing 50's music. One of the highlights for me was the marching band where everyone wore red berets with giant white feathers and capes. This is the best video I've got of it. Also: what's up with those horns? You may notice that it's not oriented correctly as of yet. But don't worry, that's all part of Charles cinematography style.

Cool, huh? The headlining group from this evening was a band called "Boney M." We took to long at dinner and didn't get to see them. It was okay with me, because I had never heard of them and every time I pointed this out someone would sing "Rivers of Babylon." Okay, only Martin sang. Still, after skimming the Wikipedia article I feel like I should have heard of them. So that's the story with the poll. Please tell me if you know this band so I can know if I should. It's like if someone started telling you about elephants. You're like "wait, a big grey mammal? Do you mean a rhinocerous or maybe a hippopotamus?" and they're all like "no, and elephant - you know, with the trunk and the tusks." Then you have to say "sorry, I have no idea" and then you look it up on wikipedia and find you're the only one in the world who doesn't know what an elephant is. So, um, have you guys heard of elephants?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pipe, Spring, Squash, Lent, Limerick

So two things have stopped me from posting recently: first, there's some trouble with the video I wanted to share with you all (involving a virus and a USB key) and second, I have an undergrad working with me for the next three weeks. While she's here I feel a like I should be working all the time. Especially since she doesn't want to take coffee breaks. Anyway, since I've been saving up things to tell you this post is in list format. Totally suprising and out of charater for me, I know.

  1. So, then, what's going on in my life right now. Hmm. I dropped an earring down the drain in my sink and took the pipes apart by myself to get it. That's something, right? I also found a barrette while I was fishing around in there. The earring is wooden and now it looks a little strange. But I love these particular earrings, so I'm going to see what I can do about it.
  2. More importantly, it's getting to be spring here. I went on a hike last weekend to see the Winterlinge - these little yellow flowers that were introduced to Jena from Italy through the wine trade.
  3. I also played squash for the first time. I wasn't sure about the differences between squash and racquetball, and the wikipedia entries were too long to read - so I'm still not sure. Anyway, squash turns out to be a lot of fun, even through my butt was so sore after playing that walking up stairs was agony for the next three days. Just thought you should know. I think it's a good sign, and if I keep playing I'll have a much nicer ass.
  4. The other thing that's happened is that Lent has started. This year I first gave up alcohol, but since Tracey is coming to visit during March (yay! Tracey!) I made a deal with God that I could drink while she's here. (God's cool with it, I think.) So I also gave up chocholate. Anyway, I haven't had any alcohol or chocholate for a week. I'm doing okay. Only 33 days to go.
  5. St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner, and you know what that means? Green beer and pinching people! Also, limericks. I think that the limerick may be my favorite form of poetry. The Haiku is close because it's shorter. However, limericks are often dirty and I think that gives them an edge. Anyway, I challege you all to write a limerick and post it in the comments or on your own blog. But if they're really dirty maybe you should just e-mail them to me.
Okay, that's all I got. And Sophie will be here soon, so I should act like I'm working.