Monday, May 31, 2010

I will be bald by the end of the day

I’m feeling overwhelmed this end of the month with a grant that has to go out by this evening. It’s not a big dossier or a complicated project, but it’s a collaboration between our lab and one in Romania. Our Romanian partner is a real sticky bit, and when the directions say the requests from the two labs have to be identical, he takes that to mean down to the word, and the order of the words. Never mind they’re not in the same language. Never mind that the form I have to fill out asks different questions than his form.
I understand that the lists of personnel and etc have to correspond, and that we have to talk about the same project, not each of us wanting something different. But this identical-ness is driving me up the wall. It can’t be done, Lucian. CHILL OUT.
But anyway. Just to have a little fun at last with the grant-ese nonsense, here’s my (incomprehensible) ticket for the Poetry Bus. Bill’s task for us was to take a sentence, chop it in half, take another one and chop it. Mix the bits into a poem. Linguistic repairs at the junctions are allowed, but hey, would they really help here ?

On requesting a Travel Grant from the European Union.
Afin de développer l’expérience de l’équipe à Iasi, plusieurs stages sont prévus à Clermont-Ferrand.
Ce travail nous enseigne lorsque le risque de cancer de l’ovaire est de 54 % pour BRCA1 et 28 % pour BRCA2.
Nous soutenons la promotion de la coopération entre universités et institutions de recherche sur les mutations récurrentes et uniques présentes dans la population roumaine.
Les conséquences d’une mutation germinale d’un gène BRCA visent le développement de la capacité de recherche.
Les objectifs généraux du présent projet incluent le risque cumulatif à 80 ans de cancer du sein approche 90 % pour les deux gènes.
Sont lourdes: l’ouverture de la recherche roumaine vers le milieu scientifique international et sa connection au milieu socio-économique Européen et international.
so there you have it. I hope you had as much fun as I did.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Hero

This week's Shootout features Heros of our towns. Clermont-Ferrand lists three claims to fame. One of them we saw two weeks ago, for the Dark Side so I'm not going to go into that. Another, and my favorite, is our horseriding boy here, Vercingétorix.
Back in the first century before the common era, Vercingétorix was the first celtic cheiftan to really federate the local clans into a significant political and military network capable of resisting the invading forces of Julius Caesar. Because the Arverni, as the Auvergnats were called then, did not have a written tradition, most of what is known about our hero comes from the writings of his adversary, recorded in Book VII of Ceasar's Comentarii de Bello Gallico. (Yes, that's a Roman soldier being trampled in the statue by Bartholdi that stands in our main square.)

Vercingétorix's main victory took place within hiking distance of my house, on the Gergovia butte just to the south. Well, people now suppose it was there - my archeologist friends insist the site is controversial and could actually be any of a number of hills nearby. I think it's the real hill, though - three sides are very steep and inaccessible, and the flat top is large enough to contain the Gaulish forces and their families, supplies, etc, for the duration of a long battle/short siege. Wherever it happened, Ceasar's forces were defeated, for once.
The Gaulish tribes, however, were still only loosely federated and not well equipped for war against the greatest military commander of the time. Just a few years later Vercingétorix attempted to hold the village of Alesia against Roman siege and eventually had to capitulate, being taken hostage and paraded around Rome in humiliation.

Our other local guy was much more demure.
Blaise Pascal here may have ridden a horse, but it's hard to imagine the mathematician-philosopher on a wild steed, brandishing weapons and trampling Romans. No, in the 17th century his thing was more about describing the scientific method, and exploring faith with logic.

Alas, I don't know anything more about his philosophy than that. I should really read the Pensées (Thoughts) someday. Along with the 24921 other books on my list... Pascal is with us still not just as a statue in a park; the local university is named after him.
Heroic footwear.
For more Shootout Heros, click here!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May’s Cat of the Month spotlight rests on.....

I know you were all waiting on tenterhooks for April’s cat of the month, and it never came. Sorry! I’ve just been swamped with projects, and my regularly scheduled cat story just got away from me. In fact, I'm barely squeezing this in before the end of May. We’re not to the end of the cats yet, no no, I’ve plenty more up my sleeve.
But on to Annie, the last of the California (and even American) cats.
Annie was our little old granny cat. We went back to Pet Pride for a companion for Man-O-War, and in spite of thinking we wanted a younger cat, this petite charmer just stole our hearts. She was at least 12; they weren’t really sure. And tiny! I’d never seen such a miniscule adult cat. She was a sort of pastel tortoiseshell, as if they had tried to bleach all the color out and left just a hint. Her personality was a soft and rich but subtle and low-key as her fur.
She did like to play, daintily, without running back and forth across the house like a crazy fool. She took care of Man’, listening to his stories and grooming him and watching his antics. Never raised her voice, or objected to the excesses of youth.
Annie didn’t like to be picked up, preferring to slide quietly onto a lap in her own time. So we never picked her up much. And thus we didn’t discover that she had breast cancer until too late. Yes, cats get breast cancer too.

But what a sweetheart!


Monday, May 24, 2010


Here we go for another ride on TFE's Poetry Bus, driven this week by Terresa
Our prompt:


They are so pretty in their white dresses
the boys in their suits
Their families have gone to so much trouble
Everybody is leaping around
There are cakes and firecrackers
More than Baptism,
or First Communion,
Where God and Jesus were foisted upon you
In Confirmation you took them in yourself.
You said Yes. Yourself.
What if all that reading and studying
took you to No?
How could you, in your shy thirteen,
Say No
to your parents
and the sisters
and the priest
and to all your aunts who have been so busy dressing you and preparing the table?
You tell your first real lie.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: (not the) Zoo

Today's Shootout theme is Zoos.

There is no zoo in or anywhere near Clermont-Ferrand. There used to be a pair of sea lions in one of the parks, a real argument for Not keeping wild animals just for fun. Wow, their enclosure was disgusting.

So instead of zoopictures, I followed one of my cats around with the camera for a couple days, and present to you now How Sienne Spends Her Days.

Chasing the Shoelace.
Chasing the Shoelace some more.
Being in the garden.
Being in the garden with company.
Hanging around on a pillow on the couch.
Hanging around on the blanket on the couch. Waiting to come in.Coming in.
Being in.
And there you have it. The life of a cat.


Thursday Zebra

It's a post zebra!

Zebra on one side, postcard on the other. Haven't yet decided who to send it to.
Happy Thursday!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sometimes there just is no difference

In our Masters program, the exams are based on figuring out the experiments that have been published, and making conclusions from them.

It's very important to include figures where there's no difference between mutant and normal cells. Because, I swear, 3 of 4 students will insist there is a difference, and one that fits with the expectations generated by other experiments. Give them a figure with a difference and they'll usually identify the right one. Usually you can't miss it. But getting them to conclude that two results are the same, or that it isn't clear, is another question.

It's okay to say there's no conclusion to be made. In this particular figure you just can't tell.

Since most of the experiments we do give results that are not different between the test and control groups, it's essential to be able to say No; as much as we'd really like to say Yes.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

The ineffable scent of linoleum

I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum.
In. Hold it just a bit.
Oh, that's heavenly.
That's the definitive smell of the first new house in the history of the Lapierres. No more tenements, no more trailers. No...
no no no
I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum. Yeah, it smelled okay. The bleach wasn't too bad. Nothing to cause suspicion.
Then I scuffed it up a bit with my boots. And spilled a few drops of old coffee and spread that around.
Nobody'd know the lino was new.
Nah, nobody'd think.
After I did Guido with the carving knife there was just so much blood I couldn't get the old lino clean. Not clean enough for cops. So out it went.
Nah, out it goes.
I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum. Breathed in the emanations of purple and swirling orange. I wouldn't hold still Jumping out at me Falling way way back it smells like a big blinking neon light. Maybe I took too many of those pink pills maybe there are some more of those neat yellow ones left. No blue ones, no
No, no
I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum. It didn't smell like anything at all. Just like plastic.
MaryLou said hers smelled like strawberries, and it had little strawberry plants printed on it. Ours was just plain. Maybe that's what beige smells like.
I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum. Hmm. The students twiddled their pens and looked up to the ceiling for inspiration. The waterspots on the acoustical tiles had spoken to them before... perhaps they would happen again. Oh, Waterspot Gods we offer you these blank pages. Take these offerings as thine own, that we may have something, anything, by the end of class.
This week's bus driver is Barbara, and you can catch a ride here!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: the Dark Side

Welcome to the Friday Shootout. It's the Dark Side today.

One of the things I'd like to change about my town is the vacant lots.
This one is right downtown; it's the old bus station, closed for about five years now. At first, there were signs on the front saying that a new University Library and Cultural Center was coming soon, in a renovated interieur. Those signs are gone now.

Hard economic times have closed a lot of the smaller businesses in town. Being next to a closed shop makes your shop more vulnerable, too, so areas of blight tend to spread.
I hope the city and the region, if not the whole nation, come up with some sort of plan to help small business stay in business. For my part, I shop small whenever I can, preferring to pay a (limited, I admit) premium at these more personal and unique places than contribute to the big box stores on the edge of town.

For a bit of dark side in a literal sense, this is a highly volcanic region, and the specialty local stone is an excellent black basalt. Most buildings of Importance are made of it, like City Hall, and here the Cathedral. Situated on a hill, from a distance the cathedral with its twin spires looks like a big black rabbit.

Right next to the cathedral is this new statue.

Urban II and the First Crusade.
Preached to great acclaim at the end of the 11th century in Clermont, the first Crusade aimed to wrest control of the Holy Land from the Muslims. Urban never transcribed his speech, though later chroniclers and his own letters indicated that this directive was the Will of God, and participants would be forgiven their sins and assured a place in heaven. The infidels were said to be subhuman and evil. The crusaders did succeed in taking Jerusalem, just before Urban’s death in 1099. For many participants, especially the peasants who made up the vast majority of crusaders, the movement was as much a chance for riches and glory, as it was a holy mission doing the work of God.
I guess such ideas were acceptable at the time. In fact, any offensive war that's going to succeed needs to paint the adversary as 'other', 'alien', 'vermin'. This makes it okay to kill, rape, and enslave.

That's enough depressing stuff for one blog post. It is kind of pretty as a work of art.

And, naturally, my favorite dark cat!

For other takes on the theme, click here!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thursday Zebra

Snagged from Niamh at Various Cushions (or did this start with TFE? It might have. It’s just the sort of thing that would come from there.)

“Animals and Enterprises - what animal you shouldn't bring where and why"

Do not take your Zebra to Go Sport.

Do not go to Go Sport with your zebra
In the afternoon
When the passing customers
(zebras like browsing, that may be why she wanted to come along)
have filled the aisles with athletic shoes
tried on and cast aside.

Do not go with your zebra
The security people might mistake you
for spies from other sporting goods outlets
And toss you out
With unkind words.

Do not go with your zebra to the equestrian department
Where the paraphernalia could provoke anxiety
In a free and wild animal.

Just don’t do it.
Don’t go to Go Sport with your zebra.
You will both be much happier.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to Mom!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday poem

yes, yes, I'm punching my ticket this time. Sorry to be such a sporadic commuter but sometimes I get excited about a theme and start making this grandiose poem and it goes way beyond Monday and most of those are in fact still cooking.

Um, the photo I landed on for my prompt absolutely does not want to copy itself here. But imagine this:
An old b&w from the U of Washington's archives, showing a party of picnicers in early 20th century dress getting out of a boat they have rowed to a flat beach somewhere. The lake is calm. The distant horizon is flat and wooded. They have brought a straight-backed chair.

After Mass

Used to be
of a Sunday afternoon we'd
all go boating on the lake
pack up the wicker baskets
with cold roasted chicken and deviled eggs and dainty finger pastries.
The hardy aunts would insist on rowing
aunts with proper hats on
decorated with ribbons and silk flowers

I tipped one of them hats in the lake once
got tanned for it!

Used to be they all laughed and talked and had a merry time
out there on the water
on Tucker island where we laid out a feast on blankets
the music of their voices filled the day
their stories and their debates

We kids were admonished to be silent and we jolly well were
until we hit that beach and could so screaming off to the interior
to fight our indian wars
and gather toads

Used to be you could just go out of a Sunday afternoon
be among folks, simply
Now it's always the tv, here in the Home
the grandkids hardly ever come, their hair dyed strange, driving some big car almost a tractor
don't say more than two words
never caught a toad in their life.


P Nolan is our driver this week - catch a ride here!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.
Thank you for all you've done for me.
I hope the sun is shining on you today, and the roses are smiling.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Photo Shoot Out: Touch

Well, I admit, I've been kind of out-of-it as far as the My Town Shootout goes. Perhaps a bit of burnout, perhaps it's just the usual hectic spring schedule. So I'm of two minds - one says what, again?? I've done more than 60 of these posts already - what more is there to show of my town? and the other reminds me it's just this kind of imposed theme that can make you notice, or think of things, in a way you haven't before, and real creativity can come from it.
This week's theme, chosen by Mark, is Touch. Things I like to touch. Hmmm. There are plenty of tactile sensations I enjoy. Digging in the garden, the radiator when it finally starts warming up, beach sand under my feet, sculptures displayed in museums, sunlight, my camera in my hand & the way it's perfectly balanced to hang on the ends of my fingertips between photos. I've chosen just one today, because they like it too. Love to touch those cats.
Natalie, always clamoring for petting.
Sienne, in-my-face whenever Natalie isn't.

And the fluffy one, the Frumious Bandersnatch, who's so much of a plush toy she gets more than enough cuddling without pestering me for more.

For more Shootouts, click here! I'll try to be more inspired for next week, especially since I suggested it, though luckily the rain has finally stopped and I can go out Shooting over the weekend.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday Zebra

I was in Bilbao recently, when I saw them: an unusual species of partially underground-dwelling zebras. Seen here in their morning migration to the meadows of local parks (kindly given their own traffic lanes so that cars don't run them over), only their backs are visible above the ground.
At night, when they make their way back to wherever they go, the white stripes catch the moonlight, making them glitter in the dark. A clever evolutionary adaptation to city life in the midst of all the cars.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Can you believe it?

One of the things about holidays and work in France: if a holiday falls on a day you don't work anyway, you still get to take the holiday, at some later date, at your leisure!
I mean, really. It's not fair for a day off to fall on a day off. You can't relax twice as much that day. It's not fair to look at your neighbor and see he's having a delicious day off when he should have been slaving away, and here you are having, sure, a day off, but you would have had the day in any case. It's just not the same.
So the law says your employer has to give you a working day off later.
14 years and this never ceases to amaze me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Last day! Bilbao

It'll be nice to see my cats tomorrow. And to relax on the hammock under the cherry trees. And to eat a simple salad with a bit of blue cheese. And to play in the dirt, planting radishes. This vacationing is interesting, but you're never at home, always doing something.
One more day first.
In the morning I wander around the old town of Bilbao, with its cobbled streets overhung with laundry, and its myriad small shops, still closed but for the bars serving coffee and breakfast pintxo at this hour.
The advertisement of wifi at the hotel seems to be a ruse to get you in the door. I want to ask about it, but never see anybody but the cleaning staff (including the woman who took my 40€ in exchange for keys yesterday), none of whom speak a language I speak. When I pack up my stuff and leave it's 11, and still nobody but women gathering laundry. I check my bag at the Guggenheim and go off again, in search of a souvenir t-shirt from one of the inevitable vendors across the street from this major attraction and a light lunch. No t-shirt. There's only one shop open on this off-season weekday, and they have nothing interesting. Pintxos, on the contrary, are everywhere. Now for a day at the museum. Let's see if it tells me any stories.
Art Impressions at the Gugg.
- A large hollow room, six abstract painting from the 'color field' school. I do like one: 4x5 feet of black paint, except for a little bit of the lower left corner. It looks like there just wasn't enough paint to go around. All used up. Called 'Iberia', by Robert Motherwell, the audioguide has a much more complicated story. It says Iberia is a commentary of Spain in the 1930's. Grim, intimidating, seemingly impenetrable but the brushwork all swirling out from the center implies chaos and frantic movement (brushwork?? perhaps it's the lighting, but from here I can't see any brushwork at all). A daring response to Franco's regime.
Hm. Looks to me just black. With a bit undone.
- A curling metal shell spirals in.You can touch both sides, should touch. Ten feet high, sometimes opening sometimes nearly touching above, you wonder what treasure you will find when you follow the path to the center. At last you are there, and it's empty. The enjoyment is in the journey.
There are several of these, like very large metal apple peels set on edge, oxidized. People-ants are drawn into their enclosed spaces. Although every one is empty, we go always to the middle, convinced that this time...
I like the way the walls lean, keeping you in, keeping you from seeing anything but the curve ahead. You can hear everyone, echoing; you can see none of them. Their shouts and attempts at interesting echos invade your own relationship with the work, intruding. Exiting, I read the sign: No Touching. - Yellow, by Anish Kapoor. Alone in its room, alas with no seats (there are plenty of seats in the hallways, but none where you can see the works at the same time. Art is a standing experience here), Yellow takes up most of the wall. It's a square with a deep indentation, all painted a flat, warm, thick yellow. As you approach, the color changes subtly with the angle of light, creating shadows and bright zones, disguising the shape and enveloping you in the understanding of this one, singular, hue.
- Got reprimanded for breathing.
The audioguide tells us that Alexander Calder's Standing Mobile responds to currents of air with gentle motion of its freely moving parts. Such a serious gallery, no currents of air are generated by the public timidly tiptoeing past, trying not to make too much noise on the wooden floor in this echo chamber.
So I circumnavigated to work, at a distance of four feet to so, and decided to try it out. My back to the guardian, I blew at the mobile, not even very hard, and yes, it responded. It came alive and arranged itself into a different face. As it is meant to. Currents of air are what bring this work of art to life. Otherwise it's just another static chunk of painted metal. Unfortunately, the guard was the other thing set in motion, and she kept close to me until I left the room.
Yes, Mom, still 'touching' after all these years.
But HaHa! nobody will be able to put Standing Mobile back the way it was before me. They can't fix it. The next visitors, the poor dupes, will think it always was that way. Will they dare breathe too?
- Good museum day: it's raining outside. Rain?? Yes, and it continues to rain off and on throughout the afternoon and evening, which will make my buswaiting an even greater pleasure. But I can look forward to that later.
Right now I'm waiting for the show. One of the temporary exhibits involves a work where a projectile of soft red wax is fired at a wall from a specially made cannon. I heard it go off a while ago, and then was the latest blob, about the size of a gallon paint can, finally slide down to join the pile on the floor. It looks like great fun. Only they're not doing one every 20 minutes like the audioguide says. It's more like every 40 minutes, and most people check and recheck their watches and give up.
Ah, finally!
A guy in a grey jumpsuit (who with his costume and scraggly hair and paunch reminds me seriously of Pinback, from that 70's SF classic, Dark Star), comes in, steps over the guardrail like it wasn't there, loads up the cannon with a fresh gallon of wax, and starts up the compressor. All without a word or a glace at us. Wait for it... wait for it... WHUMP. Red wax goes flying...and sticks to the many-times-hit wall, about 10 feet up. Flattened. The bigger chunks will make their way down to the pile over the next several minutes. - For all its impressive exterior, the Bilbao Guggenheim doesn't have many items on exhibit. Many of the ones they do have take up a lot of space. And most of the higher reaches of the archtectural fantasy are just a façade. So by six, having seen it all, slowly and in detail, including a fastidious tour of the gift shop where alas they do not have a reproduction of a particular bovine sculpture I'm partial to, and having decided that yes, I will pay that outrageous sum for a t-shirt, I'm done. I hop the 7pm bus to San Sebastian, and by 9 I'm enjoying yet another sublime bowl of fish soup. Indeed, the details are restaurant-specific. This one is dark brown, no tomatos at all, and hiding in the depths are many chunks of fish and two shrimp. Next - grilled squid in a light garlic sauce, tender and perfect. Now if only the Spaniards would visit France, or maybe Italy, and learn to make decent bread, this would be heaven.
Most of the people in my chosen eatery ignore the tables set for dinner, staying at the bar in the front section, noshing on pintxos and tossing their used napkins on the ground. For a while I'm the only diner and wonder if I'm the one who's strange, when a couple with two young kids takes a table. OK. Dining is for tourists. The bar empties out as the locals go home. Who will eat the remaining piles of finger food? There's catering for a wedding still out on the bar - what do they do with it all? Perhaps the guys remaining to watch the football game on the large screen will work their way through it.
The rain has tapered off when I wander back toward the bus station. I've got two hours to watch people gather and disperse with the arrivals and departures of busses. Really a lot of busses, apparently with little to do with the routes and hours posted. Some cultural event going on at the stadium up the road lets out at midnight, and well-dressed pedestrians flood our area in waves, taking all the taxis.
At 0:46 it's my turn. A bus flying the colors and language of Portugal pulls up and the driver calls out Clermont! It's not as comfortable as the bus out here, mostly because it's full and I have to take a seat next to a foul-breathed man who is absolutely delighted at his luck. He's a talker, too, and our lack of common language doesn't stop him. (If he's headed to France to work, why doesn't he speak French, just a little?)
That's it for this trip..