Friday, December 22, 2006

merry christmas

For the last few days I've been off work, and I've not been so stressed out and exhausted in a while. I think the biggest reason for my fatigue is doing all the daily chores with one hand only. Everything I normally just do becomes a deliberate effort.

What the stress is not due to, this year for the first time, is buying gifts. Our family decided on not having gifts because what's the point really? We don't need to prove we love each other. Instead, we're going to Prague for a few days to have a good time all of us together.

The only person who didn't keep her end of the bargain is my grandmother who decided she would like to have a new shoulder. To get this, she took a dive on the pavement and broke the old one into a million pieces. That was two weeks ago. The doctors patched her up for the moment, but she is certainly in a much worse shape than me. And we're gonna be dragging two disabled people through town.

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year. I'll be back in January.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


There's a particularly persistent bot out there that just can't keep away from my site and leaves the same stupid comment on my blog every other day. I've got a bit sick of this and have now modified the settings so it won't require a blogger account anymore to comment. Anyone can do it. But you have to be able to recognized a word of six warped letters. Let's see if that keeps the machines out.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

scratching my head

While I was going through my flickr photo stream to decide which pictures to put into the little story I'm writing about the trip to Rome I took in September, I noticed that the photo of my arm in a cast (part of a post a few days earlier) got 102 hits. This is about 100 more than any of the other images. And I'm left wondering what's so exciting about an arm in a cast. Believe me, it sucks!

Friday, December 15, 2006

thinking ahead

It's been two days now that I have my arm in a cast, and I hate it. It feels like my hand got stuck in a big earthen bowl, and I can't get it out. Sometimes I feel like smashing the white glob against a wall to see it shatter into a million pieces. The doctors probably wouldn't like this, and neither would my thumb. Sometimes the thought to simply take it off crosses my mind. I've tried it. It doesn't work.

So I'm klutzing through life with one useless arm. Last night I took a shower. How am I supposed to clean the arm that holds the soap while the other is idling hidden underneath a plastic bag? How do I do dishes? Do I have to get disposable plates, knives and forks? Or should I rather get a wife?

To keep my mind off the rather depressing present, I decided to replace some of my cycling gear. I went to Veloland, which had a going-out-of-business sale, and focused on the future for a while. Spring is around the corner, I tried to tell myself, and the cast will be gone.

Sidi Genius

Besides cables and tools I bought a new pair of cycling shoes to succeed my old ones. Both are Sidis, the best road shoes in existence, but the first pair is now, at eleven years, beginning to show its age.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

next stop morgue

This morning after breakfast, I went back to the hospital to keep the appointment I got yesterday after receiving a handful of stitches in my tendon and skin. My hope was to have my fist liberated from its boxing glove of gauze and the tendon and thumb declared in good shape and to leave shortly thereafter with only a little patch on my thumb that wouldn't impede my goings-about. Maybe I'd even be able to go back to work before Christmas.

This is not at all what transpired. The nurse who removed my bandages didn't look much at the wound. She had a colleague call the emergency room to see what damages they had actually see the day before. Then a powwow was held in the examination room where it was concluded it would be beneficial for my healing process if I wore a cast henceforth. And so it came to pass.

my first cast

I'm mildly excited as this is my first cast, and I'm grateful that I have regained at least partial command over the fingers of my left hand. I imagine that two ends of a tendon will grow into one more easily if the assembly is held as still as possible, but I think that the treatment might be just a little excessive. What's gonna happen the next time I return to the hospital? Will I leave in a wheelchair - or worse?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

dangers of a sharp knife

I cut myself surgically with an exceptionally well sharpened kitchen knife the other day. The real surgeon, later in the hospital, discovered that I had not just cut through skin as if it was butter but in fact severed a tendon. A dozen stitches and three meters of bandages later I looked worse than after any of my many mountain bike crashes. People in the tram home offered me their seats.

no broken wrist

I'll post what exactly happened when the brace is gone. Typing with one hand is no fun.

Monday, December 11, 2006

savoir vivre

As I was walking my Mexican friend home from the theater tonight, I noticed two little things that I thought were worth sharing. I even went back out into the cold to take a few pictures. As it is too late to have my tired brain produce smart lines, I'll let the images speak (and demote this highly self-regarding blog to a measly slide show).

side of burned Audi

This poor Audi was parked only yards from where I live. It's well known that French kids like to torch cars, a hundred of them are burned in an average night across the country, but this takes normally place far away from the safe cradle of Bourgeois life, in the banlieues, where French society is mostly absent and a parallel dog-eat-dog world has developed. There is nothing to interpret into this. It's just the first time I've seen a car brulée.

merry tropical Christmas

On a lighter note (no pun intended), Grenoble put up Christmas decoration last week. This year is the first time I see brightly flashing lights, almost strobes. I'm not sure how they convey the holiday spirit. I also saw for the first time Christmas palm trees. My friend immediately took a liking to them, but I'm in doubt. This is not Yucatán or Puerto Vallarta here. Anyway, it's French living, I guess.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

cold filtered

Today I went to see Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which is, in a singular case of translation-being-better-than-the-original, being called Les Infiltrés here in France. It's a double game between the Irish mafia and the Boston police who each have a mole inside the other organization. Both operate with extreme delicacy and care, and for two hours the suspense rises, the action mounts, brutality increases, and the nets tossed out to fish in the moles tighten suffocatingly.

These first two hours are extremely well made and highly entertaining. There is no blatant silliness to make all but the most imbecile viewers cringe. There is no positive face recognition from six blurry pixels taken by a security camera at night (see Enemy of the State). There is simply a dark, blurry photograph. The intricate schemes to capture the bad guys and how those bad guys subsequently extricate themselves are a pleasure to watch. The exhilarating soundtrack supports the action marvelously.

There is some fine acting in the movie, but it's not all gold. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson like no one else could possibly play Jack Nicholson. (This reminds me of a cartoon I saw in the newspaper the other day of a guy saying, You know, the new James Bond, I think he plays Sean Connery better than most before him.) It's a pleasure to watch his lunacy. Leonardo DiCaprio oscillates between trying to look extremely mean and genuinely looking like he is suffering from excruciating mental disturbances. It's a nice change for infrequent movie-goers like myself who remember his perfect incarnation of male bimboness in Titanic. Mark Wahlberg has rough lines but not much of a role. Matt Damon is lame. It's been all downhill for him since the Bourne Identity. He should go and find Forrester.

For all the elaborate edifice of mutual trust and suspicion, of one rat trying to bite the other before the other bites the one, the end is sadly unfulfilling. In the last fifteen minutes, the Byzantine construction is blown into little pieces for no good reason, and what's left doesn't make much sense. Most end up dead, and two mysteries remain. What's in the envelope that Billy gave Madolyn, and who put the baby in her belly?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

firefox extensions

Since early 2004, back then still in version 0.x, I've been using Firefox. Despite initially lacking mouse gestures and being a bit slower, it quickly replaced Opera as the browser of my choice, mostly because of better support of non-standard web pages. Today I discovered two great additional features that show why Firefox is fantastic. Both of them are extensions.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, I explain quickly. Firefox can be customized by the user with add-ons. These are little jiffies that help tune Firefox according to a user's predilections. They sit on top of the browser and won't mess with the system.

Mouse Gestures came out a long time ago. They allow you to navigate (back, forward, new tab, close tab, up, etc) by gesturing with your mouse while holding the right button down. I've got so used to them that I get upset at other programs, especially file managers like Windows Explorer or Finder, for not supporting them.

The next great thing is Adblock Plus, which prevents most advertisements from loading. You'll be amazed how much faster you'll browse and how much cleaner your screen will look. While I'm ready to accept ads if I get content for free in return, I'm less inclined to suffer them when I already pay for the content. This is the case with my Economist subscription. What's worse, their roll-over ads sometimes refuse to be closed and block content. Now they're gone.

Today I installed two more add-ons. The first, Chipmarks, allows you to save and organize your bookmarks on a central server and access them wherever you are, essential when working on different computers all the time. I was so sick of permanently synchronizing bookmarks. I trust Chipmarks more than similar services like or Google Notebook because it's an open source project developed at a university.

Lastly, there is Greasemonkey, an extension that I'm totally excited about, though I've only scratched its surface. It opens a new dimension of customizing your browsing experience by running scripts on webpages that will change the way the content is presented. Sounds cryptic and complicated? Yes, but it's not. The (extremely sluggish) scripting repository contains more than two million scripts. The two that I've downloaded take me directly to the print version of Economist and New Yorker articles I chose, saving me a click each time. Laziness might just be the mother of all inventions.

Friday, December 08, 2006

freaks at the economist

This past September I visited a friend of mine in Rome for her birthday. At the party she was given a book that I had long wanted to read, Freakonomics. In this book, two economists look at many instances of what is conventional called common wisdom and show that, oftentimes, it should be more accurately called common stupidity. I was the first to open the book at the party, even before the new owner had a chance. I read the first chapter, then went back to France and forgot about the book again.

Today I remembered again when I found an article in the Economist that attempts to debunk what it calls myths surrounding organically farmed, fairly traded or locally grown food. Given that the Economist is, despite honest attempts at fairness and objectivity, the official publication of big money capitalism, the conclusions must be taken with a grain of salt. But like all unorthodox opinions, they are worth being considered and debated. Here are my two cents:

  • Maybe apples shipped from New Zealand to Old England are environmentally and energetically more sensible than the home-grown varieties, but surely apples from closer orchards (eg. South Tyrolean) are even better.
  • Kenyan green beans are flown in overnight, but maybe they should better be sold where they were grown, in a country that's suffering from famine, instead of being exported to a highly protective market.
  • A much larger percentage of people walks to the local market (that's the point of it being local) than walk to the grocery store. That should give the market an uncontested edge in the food-vehicle mile game.

Will anyone share his or her thoughts on this topic?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nikon or Canon

Over the last several weeks, my desire to get a real digital camera has grown stronger and stronger. My two-year old Canon A95 is a fine digicam, but doesn't come close in ease of use to the film SLR I used to own. Last night I finally sat down to do some research. I see two contenders in hot pursuit of my money. Canon's brand new Rebel 400D (XTi) and Nikon's D80. Both cost less than 1000 euros, and both can be equipped with Sigma's 30/1.4 lens, basically the only normal lens in the APS-C sensor digital world.

As I understand photography, every good camera should first and foremost be equipped with a normal lens. It is lightweight and makes taking good pictures easy. The perspective of the lens is similar to that of the human eye. Something that looks good to the beholder will be a good picture. No difference between Nikon and Canon in this case, just persistent indecision on my part.

While I was clicking around on, trying to get some more information to help me decide, I came upon a picture that reminded me of another great lens, the second essential in a photographer's bag. Just as Phil Greenspun's Glen Canyon Dam, the shot below was taken with a 28/2.8 mounted on a N8008 body. The wider the lens, the more dramatic the sky will look. I loved the 28, though these days I'd probably go with a 24.

acoma pueblo

Now here's the problem: With the magnification factor of about 1.6 due to the smaller sensor size compared to 35mm film, you cannot buy a wide angle lens for a digital camera. All that exists are very few wide angle zooms, and who wants to lug those around? So it's still 0:0 between Nikon and Canon, and zero points are not a good score.

I was looking forward to testing my new digital SLR in Prague at Christmas. Instead, it looks increasingly likely that I'll just borrow my dad's N70 and shoot the few rolls of slide film that still hibernate in my fridge. I might even find one last Velvia there.

should I stay or should I go

Nature Jobs, the career guide section of Nature, arguably the most prestigious scientific journal, posed a dilemma this morning, very pertinent to my current situation. Before doing anything else in the lab I had to read the article, as I am really in the same predicament. Should I stay or should I go? My boss thinks one way and I the other, but I have no good arguments to back up my case.

The article points out some of the things to consider when attempting a career change or simply trying to further one's career. Networking, talking to people in different fields, finding passion, testing the waters before making the jump. Five or six scientists by training are presented. None of them adhered to career path orthodoxy, and almost all work in jobs that they didn't go to graduate school for.

Doing something else has been tempting me for a while now, though I have no idea what this else would be. I'm trying to find my talents and interests by doing a course in patent law and developing my writing skills. You are the victims and the judge.

Maybe I don't have to look far. For a week now, my enthusiasm for science has been inexplicably rekindled. There has been no identifiable trigger for this, no dramatic break-through in my projects. Hell, there are hardly any positive developments. And yet, I find myself in lab at ungodly hours, working happily and almost as hard as in graduate school. This means being pretty much alone in lab after most people leave around five. It's not motivating, and I don't know for how long my spirits will hold. But they're flying high right now.

High enough that I almost lost touch with reality today. This afternoon, I sat down at my bench with a fully charged miniPod in my pocket, ready to set up hours of crystal trays. Before getting into the zone, I was lucky to remember salsa night. My dancing partner is back after a lengthy absence. And while I will spin her around on the dance floor, a question will spin in my head. Should I stay or should I go?