Freitag, 28. Juli 2017

A lesson of time: From the Big Bang to human extinction.

Deutsch, Español

In the last two months I was able to learn with my eldest kid (4) about the universe, planets and dinosaurs; main subjects in his daily conversation. Reading his books and visiting (many times) museums I recalled what we all already know but not think deeply about its meaning: how old is our universe, why dinos died and what are we doing here.

We learned that the universe is 13.7 billion years old. To put it in numbers 13.700.000.000 years and that it all started with a big KaBoom! (Big Bang). Since then a lot has happened to put humans where we are now. What is interesting is that we are definitely new in the history of the universe and we still think however that we are central to it. Worsely, we defend blindly (even with our own lives) our selfish mythological beliefs about who created all things.

Why I say that we are the “new ones” here? Let’s pretend that the universe has exactly 100 years old, just like a healthy and attractive centenerian that seems will live much longer.

 At the age of 1 year (200 million years after the Big Bang) galaxies developed, but it is only at the age of 67 that the planet earth was formed (9150 million years after the Big Bang). At this stage the planet Earth was still very immature for living beings.

Multicellular organisms (Ediacara fauna)on Earth are estimated to have occurred around 13.08 billion years after the great explosion. Translated to our centenerian universe it means that only at the age of 95 life could arise on at least one of the trillion planets of our universe, in planet Earth.

Dinosaurs showed up 235 million years ago (at the age of 98 of our centenerian universe) and they ruled the Earth for not less than 160 million years (that’s about more than one day for our 100 year old universe).

The 5th mass extinction of living beings on planet Earth took place 65 million years ago. Afterwards humans, as we know them, started to develop from apes (Hominoidea). Miss Universe is now 99 years and there are only 53 days to go for her 100 birthday.

Homo sapiens (humans) seem to appear 20 hours before the 100th birthday of our centenerian universe (fossils were found in Morocco dating back to 300 thousand years ago. Link here).
The chronology of events in the Universe and in our planet is intensively studied, considered reliable and teached in school and university books. It is constantly updated and either proved correct by scientific methods or at least by mathematical approximations to which we don’t want to go much into detail (for more information please apply to the nearest Paleonthology, Astrophysics and/or Particle Physics course in your town). However, humans, right from their beginning, believed and still believe on supernatural and mythological forces that created the universe, earth and mankind. Each religion (although just few minutes old in the history of our centenarian universe) had, has and will have its own version of the origins; and their followers, as in the past, are not willing to accept other explanation than their own.
To our fortune, there are people in our planet who are not conformist with fairy tales and are curious enough to investigate and go deeper into the origin of things. Without them we would still believe that the Earth is flat, or that it is the center of the universe, or that humans were created from mud, or dust or corn or from a male human rib.

 It is worrying that we will almost for sure not be as long in this planet as dinosaurs were (160 million years). In our very young existence (300 thousand years) there are estimates pointing to human extinction to year 2600 if there are no changes in our climate policies and the current exponential population rise 1 .
Based on these predictions, Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest physicists of our time, prompt us urgently to seek new worlds and colonize them if we want to avoid extinction in the near future.

For his whole lecture at the Starmus Festival 2017 (Norway) see here:

It’s a topic with many more questions that we might never be able to respond. For example:
What about the time before the Big Bang? Time does not count there?

Maybe is our universe a part of another one, or one of many. And what would happen when two expanding universes encounter each other? (Likely total annihilation). In fact, a “Multiverse” is a possibility that is supported by the M-theorie (which I have no clue what is but astrophysicists might understand it)
Even if we don’t dissapear in the next thousand years, we might in few million years with the upcoming waves of mass extinction (as it happened before 440, 375, 250, 205 and 65 million years ago) or the possibility of a cooling down of the universe or an explosion of our sun among other astronomical catastrophes. Thinking of these we should probably aim to make a backup of all the information we generated in the last 300 thousand years. From “how to do fire” to “how to cook spaghetti” should be stored for future residents living in this or more likely in other planets.

Now, if you excuse me, I need to use my very limited time in this Earth for something else (My hopefully >80 years are just about 18 seconds time of our 100 year old Miss Universe).

Persistence of memory, Salvador Dalí 1931

1.       Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. 2001
2.       The Museum or Natural History. Vienna, Austria. 

Samstag, 20. Mai 2017

Thoughts about a skirt. An open letter

Dear mother,

I know that you got somehow worried about your 4 year old grandchild wanting to go with a skirt to the kindergarten. I believe there is no reason to be worried about it as you and I were just raised in a much more conservative environment than where your grandchild is. Maybe I was skeptical at the beginning when he insisted to wear a skirt and his soccer T-shirt, but I realized that equality of genders starts at home and even better if it starts while one is still a child. I am not saying that wearing a skirt is good or bad for children at this age, when innocence is the overall rule and “sexualism” is absolutely absent. But we have to understand that in the developed world there are places where male workers voluntarily wear skirts at work (link) just because they are more comfortable, and this does not necessarily compromise any sexual preference if this is the reason of your concern.

Train drivers in Sweden. Photo source

I do not have to mention that the typical dress for men in Scotland is a skirt, and I do not think there is a single lady in this world that will find less attractive or question the sexuality of Sean Connery if he is to be found walking around in his skirt.

Maybe your grandchild will flush or simply laugh about when I take his pictures out at his wedding showing him dressed with his Maya the bee skirt and his soccer T-shirt.

Through the eyes of his parents and those from many other people, this is just a phase that makes him even more sweet and innocent than what he already is. Something to respect about him is how he independently chooses and has the initiative to wear something like that. This power of choice was not inherited from his father who at this age was always a conformist and weak-minded when it was about making own-decisions.

How the parents of your grandchild think and accept this situation comes pretty much hand in hand with a very strong social movement to achieve equality of genders at all levels. There is increasing awareness in Europe (and hopefully all over the world) that women should be treated equally to men. For example, by getting paid for the same job as it is known that women are underpaid compared to male co-workers. This is unfair as we all know that in many instances it is women who “wear the trousers” (to put it in an understandable words that are still discriminatory) at work or home.
In this same line, a paid parental leave at work after a son or a daughter is born is mainly taken by women, with only few fathers daring to take this time off to take care of their kids.

From my side, I feel lucky when I am able to play the role of “housewife” (I did not found a valid equivalent word for the male counterpart and I find that offending). I do not only enjoy this time but I also believe that is the correct thing to do after typically mothers (and grandmothers)  have to be fully engaged taking care of the children, even at the expense of their own careers.
I hope I can thwart somehow this situation at home with a paid paternal leave that I was allowed to take thanks to the Austrian system and the good spirit of the company where I work. These two months are typical for fathers who stay at home but still much less compared to the invested time of mothers.

I hope I could clarify dear mother your thoughts and worries by explaining why your 4 year old grandchild and 37 year old child sometimes choose to wear the apron. Gender equality could be achieved already at very young or older ages. I also send you a big hug while I still can before your second grandchild wakes up and demands for his fruits that are not yet cut.

Your son.

Mittwoch, 14. Dezember 2016

The joy of (not) being sick.

No one should ever discuss back that the most important thing in life is to stay healthy, everything else just doesn’t matter compared to your physical and mental health, and they should have the highest priority because your entire life depends on them.
There are times that one gets sick either with a harmless cold or an undesirable more serious disease. These are the days that will make you miss what being healthy is to be. However, even from these uncomfortable situations there are things to learn.
I will write for now from personal experience (and hopefully only) from the first case where to be healthy again is just a matter of resting and keeping yourself hydrated.

It is my 4th day with a crappy cold, but there were some moments in the past few days that I could only describe as “joy” for a number of reasons.

How often I have the opportunity in a regular day to please me with a hot tea with lemon and honey in bed? That is what my body screams for now and likely is much healthier than the regular 3 coffees per day to keep the
senses up and running at work.

How often I cooked and ate a soup with absolutely no time pressure?  Well, in a Monday to Friday routine I can just wait to go to the canteen and eat a lunch fast enough to continue work and finish on time. I really like to cook (on the weekends) but often I prefer to skip the cooking part and treat my family and myself with some foreign food.

In my particular case, exercising in a regular manner is as important as breathing, and when I don’t train I feel terribly unhappy (and unhappiness is not really appreciated at work or home). It does really make a difference in my life that little hormone kick that a short routine of exercises brings. However these feelings toward sports led me since I was young to stress myself and push “the machine” to its limits. Resting time is just as important as training time. Because at the moment I am not able to do 3 push- ups in a row, here again I have the perfect opportunity to have some rest. I might do a full stop until New Year as well, so that all those extra-calories from Christmas get a fair opportunity to integrate themselves around my belly button.

Regarding sleeping times, I have never had a better nap than that when I fell asleep in my son’s bed while the kids were playing over me. I don’t have to mention that the closest to a nap in a regular week is that 3-minute eyes shut on my way back home in the train avoiding by all possible means all physical human contact.

This kind of sick state is an opportunity to concentrate on your health and your personal needs. At the end you are the only one who can please what you deep in your heart need, just some peace in body and mind.
And by the way, if you find a mate with whom you can share your illness, even better. This time I am sharing the sickbed with my 6 month old son who also has a cold. Last year was with my back then 2 year old son. They, like me, do not appreciate when one is not able to breath with all those colorful things coming out of your nose, but at least we had and have each other to complain and stay the whole day in warm jammies.

Mittwoch, 12. Oktober 2016

The Nobel prize for a green-coloured protein

In memory of Roger Tsien 01.02.1952 - 24.08.2016

The 2008 Nobel prize package for chemistry (1.4 million Euros including the trip to Stockholm) went to Roger Tsien, Osamu Shimomura and Marty Chalfie for their work on a protein called GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein), a protein that glows green in the dark.

Osamu Shimomura had a lifetime work collecting and studying the crystal jellyfish (Aequorea Victoria) where this protein can be found (that’s why these animals are bioluminescent). Shimomura was the first one to isolate the pure GFP protein (1962)

Douglas Prasher had in the 80’s and early 90’s seminal papers reporting the isolation of the DNA that encodes for GFP. Without this work it wouldn’t have been possible to use this protein in organisms other than the Jellyfish. (GFP has nowadays several applications, many animals are glowing green right now...for medical investigation).

shine on blue

Chalfie, who already by then made important discoveries on the neurologic architecture of worms (his papers were published in top class journals in the 80’s), got very interested in GFP after he heard a talk on bioluminiscence. He wanted to make their worms glow green using this protein and for this he contacted Prasher.

Unfortunately for Prasher, his money run out and couldn’t continue with his research on GFP, but as any other good-hearted scientist, he provided the material he created to many other scientists including Tsien and Chalfie. Chalfie, with this material, managed to make bacteria and his worms glow green (a paper published in “Science” 1994 where still Prasher was co-author).

Tsien, on the other hand, managed to improve the fluorescence of GFP by creating several mutant proteins (“Nature” paper in 1995).

To make a long story short, Shimomura, Tsien and Chalfie got the Nobel prize for GFP, while Prasher end up as a shuttle driver for a car dealership (for 10 dollar/hour).

As good gesture, Prasher was offered to assist to the Nobel Prize ceremony (it must had been something like going to the wedding of your ex-girlfriend) where he was acknowledged for his contribution to Chalfie and Tsien work.

In june 2010 Prasher was finally able to return to science with a small contract with a research firm. Later he was able to work in Tsien's lab (2012-2015)

Its not only important to know what you are doing, but also to be in the right place and the right time to have Nobel prize winning papers (or at least papers)

All the best to Prasher and those anonymous heroes who pave the way for the very few to the top. (Someone knows who or where are the guys that worked on those papers? And what are they doing now?)

Unluckily Roger Tsien passed away at the age of 64. It seems unexpected and he will be for sure missed by colleages, friends and all the community that got to know him (even through only his papers)

Sonntag, 16. September 2012

No crisis for the weapon industry


According to different sources, the world economy crisis did not stop the weapon industry to keep growing. More than 300 billion Euros of profit made the most important weapon industries only in 2010.

One can equivocally think that the weapon industry is to blame for the increasing world violence, and that the profit that they made could much better be invested in more loyal causes, but in reality are those that are buying  weapons the real entities to blame.  

Each country has its priorities and when a government  decides to invest much more in weapons than in education, then the weapon industries are not really to blame about it, but rather the people and organizations that keep flowing cash into their arcs for the acquisition of men-killing items

For one end, the weapon industries should pay higher taxes and should actively be engaged in the reconstruction of cities that were severely damaged by confrontations that are indirectly endorsed by the weapon industry.  This kind of measurements would try to balance the unfair profit that weapon industries made with the loss of human lives and destruction of entire countries.

Sonntag, 9. September 2012

The Pleasures of life


It is so easy to write about this topic. One only needs a 5 minute break to think about what really we like to do and what makes us happy.
We people are in many ways different, so what I write today is my personal opinion but I am quite sure that other people will agree with me in different points because what makes us happy is often common to different cultures and personalities.

I start with the most beloved activities:

1. Eating, especially when one is hungry and waited very long time for that dinner that probably is not the healthiest one. For example that oily cheese burger with fries and a Coke. Many times is rather quantity than quality what brings satisfaction because I know that eight tacos are better than two, and with eight ingested Tacos I will have the extra joy of the next day when they have to leave my body again. Ok... you can call me gross but its true and no matter what especially the female readers think, I know that returning them to the environment can be as pleasant as eating itself (I think men will agree with me).

2. None of us would be here if our papas and mamas wouldn’t have made out. And now we understand why we are like 7 billion people leaving right now. That is a lot of “loving” in only the past 100 years. An extra to this point is that different “loving” positions bring more joy than others during the, what can be described as, one of the most pleasant activities in the world.

3. Waking up every morning would not be the same without that bitter coffee that is washed off my tongue with a sip of water. 15 Minutes later I can feel my heart beating faster and I am ready for the day (This fabulous invention works also perfectly after lunch).

4. About chemical dependencies: In my case I got hooked up by the endorphins that are released in my body during sports. Especially when I exaggerate and I am about to pass out. It is like a „trip” and you can make it even better by jumping into mildly cold water (a pool, river, ocean, lake, etc.) and feel how your body is being again cooled down. That is simply an extraterrestrial feeling (Maybe that is one of the reasons why some people think I am a masoquist).

5. After an intensive week at work, music and even better with a cold beer, is the perfect remedy against all.

6. Meeting with good friends brings in any case joy, and when that is combined with point No. 5, because of an old arithmetic rule, it ends up being a double joy.

7. Sleeping, especially when is cold and rainy outside, bring not only joy but inner peace. So much that one thinks that our longest sleep, death, cannot be so bad after all. Maybe that is why we say when someone travels to the other side “rest in peace”.

Maybe these are some of the main joy bringers that one can wish for him/herself (at least for me). An extra point that married people or people in a relationship should mention (not only because it is true but also to avoid conflicts) is the romantic time one spends with the partner. Quality time that makes the road of life easier to travel (Additional information to be found in point 2)

I forgot that for many the perfect job or a promotion at work is a joy bringer, but one must remember that these moments might not come that often in comparison to points 1 to 7. However, we would still regard them as moments that bring happiness to our lives.

Extra joy bringers:

Drink a half litter of soda and burp as loud as possible
First fart of the day (Ladies… please…. You know it’s true)
To take a piss when you just can’t hold it anymore
Find money (doesn’t happen often)
Accomplish a goal, e. g. loose xx kilos, be champion of something, establish a new record,  save a determined quantity of money, run xx Km, lift xx kilos, complete a course, etc. In all these cases one needs a lot of motivation and hard work, but the reward is usually very high.

Sonntag, 2. September 2012

An unemployed returns to work


So, it is time. Today was my last day as unemployed.  After an 8 months break I finally found a job and that in a very attractive company. Happier than me can only be my mother, as she probably was more worried than me during this time. From the last day in my previous job until now I have collected a bunch of experiences and learned a lot. Today I will not write about why I changed my job (maybe some other time) but I will write about my experience in the last months as unemployed. 

I can say that right from the beginning as an unemployed I felt so relieved and comfortable, probably because I was overworked and burned out of all the duties and pressure I had in my previous jobs.  Right from the beginning as unemployed I tried to use my free time (that is my whole time) as effective as possible in learning new things like….THE GERMAN LANGUAGE! I had this desire very long time but because of the working hours I could not actively learn it as one would do with an intensive language course. I kept me busy for four months in different german courses with the goal of at least reaching the level B2 (with which one can theoretically assist to the university, which at some point was again in my plans). 

At the same time I promised myself to try to keep fit, since I neglected all about doing sports or at least doing some sort of physical activity. That is why I am going to the gym now at least 2 times per week and this motivation had also a positive effect in my wife’s attitude towards training, who although does not have the time because of her work, tries to go to the gym as well.

In the past months I met many interesting people and made new very good friends from who I will probably be writing about another time

But not everything was a blue sky, since the unemployed must actively look for a new job, and that is exactly what I was also doing. From 64 applications I received only 5 invitations for interviews. I received on a weekly basis the „No thanks, but wish you all the best in your future endeavours“ email and I had days where I could only seat in front of the computer  waiting for the next declining.

This sort of stress was a little bit increased by the fact that I was feeling “a bit” guilty for receiving the very generous allowance of the state for being unemployed, and that as a foreigner. This was in fact more than I monthly received during my doctoral studies when I used to have the 60 hours/week .
I knew that I deserved this assistance from the state, since I paid my unemployement insurance, but I wanted to return to the productive side of the society and pay my taxes again.
I knew also that a very long break can be a carrier killer so I pushed me harder in looking for a new job. However I still kept myself busy swimming in the Danube, training in the gym, cleaning the house and cooking new recipes, things that I did not do before and I really enjoyed doing them.

After seven months, my wife and I had a good feeling about one of my applications in a company in which I pictured myself pretty well working in, and that in a field that was relatively new and very interesting to me.
And one day the offer was glowing in my email. I did not think too long to sign the contract, because to me looked like a dream job. Some days later I signed the contract and I have now only 36 hours until I can start my new job. To this job I will bring loads of experience and I will try to avoid those mistakes that I made in the past. I can already mention that a work is nothing more than an occupation, one likes very much to do and this should not be intoxicated with superfluous and needless expectations imposed by oneself or by the boss (about that I would also be writing later)