Friday, April 13, 2012

Cambridge, early spring

The weather has started to improve: it still feels cold and damp but the sun is warmer, the days longer, and people are starting to shake off their winter clothes.

In spring, the Don’s attention turns to gardens and Pimms, preferably in combination.  Clare College opened it’s Fellows garden for Easter week, a quiet grove of trees, ponds, and meticulously documented plantings designed to encourage contemplation and conversation.  You can always distinguish the scholars from the tourists in the garden, or around town, by who has their head down and their hands moving (scholars) vs. head up, hands and eyes pointing (tourists).


Activities have died down as Easter term begins and students become occupied with exam and thesis preparations.  tour groups of domestic and foreign students are everywhere as choices are made for the Michaelmas term (autumn) and first year classes and housing are arranged.

The nice weather brings both artists and scientists along the banks of the Cam.  Both sit in the sun, hunched over drawing pad and iPad, respectively.  Both focus intently on the surface in front of them, squinting, fingers busy, the occasional twitch at the corners of their mouths as they find an element that needs correction.  And both hunch over their work to protect it as the first raindrops start to fall.

Maybe CP Snow was wrong about the size of the gap separating the two?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A bit of this and that

Back in the Netherlands, then on to the UK for a few days before returning to the Dutch.  I’ve got a few bigger things to write about later in the week, but a few small things today.


I traveled to Brighton for a review of our microbiology results on the anti-microbial catheter coating: it seems to be doing everything we had hoped for.  Additional information from our chemistry group in Sheffield was similarly encouraging.  Coming on the heels of a nice result from the Chicago and Seattle experiments, I’m in the happy position of having a palette of good results from both projects.

I was thinking, walking along the pier, about how much risk this all was at the outset, good ideas with innumerable ways that things could go wrong.  We’re not out of the woods yet, but a lot is going right.

I watched the kids laughing and screaming from the spinning and bouncing rides: thrills without risk.  Ironic as well as childish.


What is the longest grammatical sentence using the fewest number of words?

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Which roughly translates as "New York bison whom other New York bison bully, themselves bully New York bison”.  Or, formally:



And a couple of new Dutch commercials, one for the Emergency Medical folks, and one for Bavaria bier fans:


SchipholAnd Schiphol has launched a trial of a new, fully automatic passport scan for outbound passengers.  It only works if you have a European passport with a biometric chip: you scan the passport then a facial recognition scan. If the two match, you pass.

When I passed by, the lines looked longer – people were having trouble getting passports positioned and the face scanner to lock. But once the bugs re out, it will likely replace the quick dialog with the agent in the booth.

Monday, April 9, 2012

58, at the zoo, with big eats

Vienna ChicagoT’was a nice birthday.

I had traveled to Chicago to start clinical trials of our new device prototype (which worked fabulously, happily) and managed to hit a (rare) sunny weekend as well.  Easter holidays kept the roads clear and prices low, giving a good choice of places to stay, eat, and relax.

And, since it was my birthday as well, we could indulge.

One of the things I miss whilst in Europe is heart-of-America roadside food.  Pizza (Bill’s Pizza and Pub), Vienna Beef Sausages (Poor Boy on Maywood), Rack ‘o Ribs (Famous Dave’s): this sort of thing just doesn’t happen across the pond.  I stayed with smaller portions and took a doggie bag from each place, but it’s more food than I’m used to eating and I expect a week-long fast in penance upon returning to the Netherlands.


DSC09305  DSC09271

At this rate, I won’t make 59 (the “rich and sassy’ part appeals, though…)

On my birthday (Easter Sunday), we drove past two homes where I grew up, remarkably unchanged over the years.  Each had a small addition; all of the houses still looked much smaller than I remember (and it’s not just that I was much smaller back then – these are teen-age years).


Brookfield Zoo is the major animal park in Chicago, one of the first to put animals in natural settings instead of cages, organizing by themes instead of species.  It’s got a wonderful collection of bears and bison; amazing to watch the seals and walrus’s swim behind the glass (who knew that their tails did that?).

The giraffes, aardvarks, apes, and wolves were especially good.

2012 Apr Brookfield 04 2012 Apr Brookfield 162012 Apr Brookfield 30

It’s a smile to see the relentless branding of each exhibit, each animal with someone’s name as sponsor (I remember one particularly horrible nocturnal rodent in Milwaukee with a plaque saying This exhibit is in memory of *** from his friends). 

2012 Apr Brookfield 28 2012 Apr Brookfield 20

The elephant house is being refurbished, so the megafauna are scarce, and many animals seem a bit stressed to be seeing people again (the polar bear was pacing ten left, ten right, looking especially troubled).

2012 Apr Brookfield 12 2012 Apr Brookfield 08

But the flowers and birds were out, the fountains playing, a nice breeze blowing the children’s laughter across the greens.  Just a nice afternoon to stroll and enjoy life’s time together,