Donnerstag, 5. April 2018

Mothers, bring your children to work! (Fathers keep just looking)

Deutsch, Español

Today I read an article1 about supporting young mothers working in science, by letting them bringing their babies and kids to scientific conferences.  While this idea very superfluously seems to support mothers in science; it can only strengthen an already marked sexism debilitating women in their field of work.

Part of "Father and son"- Story of the Ilustrator. Erich Ohsers (E.O. Plauen) 2

And here I explain why.

As a father working in science, married to a scientist, and both attending regularly to scientific conferences; I would personally not have a problem seeing mothers breast-feeding their babies or kids running through poster (but not Conference) sessions. However, I doubt that any parent would be fully able to concentrate on networking, giving a presentation or trying to get the most of such a meeting while the own child needs to be fed or simply needs some attention.
It will almost certainly be boring enough for any child, as for the most of the adult population, to hear for hours how protein “X” interact with peptide “Y” and what the p value was for that control group that no one really understands.

The whole idea seems to support mothers, but what it indeed does is to openly support sexism by assuming that mothers alone should take care of their children, even at work; leaving fathers behind or undisturbed at their workplaces.

The easiest solutions to consider are:
1. Fathers to take responsibility of their children specially while mamas have to work and no other childcare option is available.

2. Although difficult to conciliate in all countries, easier childcare options at the working place, and conferences in this case, calls for an intrinsic change of national policies in some countries that should favor mothers (and families) working not only in science but in any other job.

An insider tip, there are countries that support paid maternal/paternal leave and grant easy childcare options.

1. Nature 555, 551 (2018)

Mittwoch, 14. März 2018

Stephen Hawking and his Legacy

Deutsch, Español

There was only one person that could probably be the closest to understand the complexity of the universe and therefore of existence. The same person likely lived every day of his life like if it was the very last one, as it should be.

Diagnosed with a condition that would not let him live more than a couple of years longer, he managed to survive more than 50 years with this disease, time in which he left a path of knowledge that could only be compared with that left by Isaac Newton.

Stephen Hawking might leave this world but he will be perpetuated as long as the human race exists. Not for long if his forecast turns to be also true.

Fotos and links

Dienstag, 2. Januar 2018

A reliable smartphone-free activity tracking system

Español, Deutsch

Activity tracker systems are proposed to monitor physical activity during the day and the night. However, they might fail to retrieve specific information tailored for each user, especially from those that are still reluctant to use smart phones.
A classical, battery free, Old School activity Tracker system (OST) was evaluated for the period of one year from January to December 2017.
Daily sport activities performed by a motivated 37-year old male subject were manually documented after training through a keyboard into a database created in a 7-year old computer.
Daily training sessions were classified into 6 categories: 1) Legs, 2) Core (back, abdominals), 3) Arms/back contractions, 4) Arms/chest flexions, 5) whole body training, 6) others (including swimming, running, biking, etc).
A database with 137 exercises for the different categories was created based on personal experience and the recommendations of Marc Lauren (1). This database helped to spontaneously decide what to exercise every day.
An average of 16 exercises per week were performed uninterrupted in the year 2017, where the weeks with lowest performance were due to A) sickness B) relaxing days in a Spa, C) a summer family trip, D) laziness or E) the Christmas break; as shown in figure 1.

Number of exercises performed every week in 2017 classified by category. 

Figure 1.  A, B, C, D, E arrows point weeks where the normal training was interrupted. The Old School Activity Tracker OST was able to identify these periods

A total of 860 exercises were performed throughout the year. The in-house training period significantly improved performance on different physical challenges.

Attempt to break the world record of abdominal plank

New year resolution: The planche pushup
(9 month  follow up, 7 attempts)

Of note, a considerable reduction in running activities compared to previous years was observed (285 minutes in 2017 vs approx. 2400 minutes per month from 1996 to 2003),
The correlation found between weeks with low activity (A to E, figure 1) and the periods of training restriction due to external or motivational reasons, validate OST as a strategy to monitor and evaluate physical performance. 

These results revive and expose the potential benefits of writing down training achievements independently of invasive electronic devices such as smartphone-dependent activity trackers.

Material and methods
A bar fixed on a concrete wall, a very small child (4-8 Kg), a medium size child (9 to 14 Kg), a sponge mat and an ab wheel were spontaneously used depending on the mood of the operator. Statistical analysis was performed using Excel software (Microsoft Office). The majority of the exercises where performed according to Marc Lauren recommendation for each training category as shown in representative examples below.


Arms flexions

Arms contractions


Book: Marc Lauren. You are your own gym (Fit ohne Geräte). 2011

Samstag, 14. Oktober 2017

A commentary of a foreign observer about the Chancellor elections in Austria 2017.

This weekend there will be elections in Austria to elect the chancellor. As in any other country, it won’t be easy to choose who will be representing the country internationally and have direct influence on our pockets. I can only give a neutral opinion without having the right and obligation to vote in the country where my sons were born.

An introduction to the candidates:

The reds from the socialist party (SPÖ) are represented by the current chancellor Christian Kern, who was not democratically elected but because of his contacts with the red party. The ex administrator of the Austrian Railways ÖBB was recruited by the red party in order to replace the resigning chancellor Werner Faymann, who stepped out  when he was no longer able to deal with the coalition partner. After a vacation, he restarted his career in a high position at the UN in parallel to his personal business. 
It is likely the previous experience as manager from a state company that is able to internationally compete with others that gives C. Kern some points in favour. With this experience he pursues a very socialist ideal, as its party requires him to do, to please the financial needs  of the working class of his country.This is an asset his opponents might lack. 

Sebastian Kurz, commands the turquoise party ÖVP. Since his arrival to the party he turned all upside down including the traditional black color of the party. He obtained unconditional support since the ÖVP had no other candidate to fill the boots of his also resigning vice-chancellor and party leader Reinhold Mitterlehner, who not being able to work together with the red party, decided to continue his career outside of politics (Seems to be difficult to work together as politician in Austria, there is little persevereance and big opposition).
Sebastian Kurz, being the stereotype of an ideal leader: tall, handsome and good speaker; heads the party still named the “blacks” because the media are still reluctant to refer the party as the “turquoise”. Unfortunately the propaganda of his party is similar, if not identical, to that of the right party FPÖ, which main argument for a better Austria is the reduction of immigration. The very short age of S. Kurz, to my opinion, is a disadvantage to exercise a job of such an importance (He is 31 years old). Nevertheless, S. Kurz learned quite well how to communicate (body and spoken language) to convince the masses and this helped him to position himself in his current and previous jobs as foreign and integration minister respectively.

Heinz Christian Strache, leads the blue right party FPÖ and as one of its main goals is to reduce “islamization” in Austria, being other problems, to my understanding, neglected in his agenda.
As an immigrant and self nominated “tolerant” I can only reject the presents that his campaign give away in the streets, although my kids would gladly take them. (photo: 
During the presidential elections, the FPÖ has demonstrated support in towns and small cities where, ironically, multiculturality is not really observed and the immigration rates are low enough compared to big cities such as Vienna. This unmasks the unnecessary fear to immigrants and refugees in some parts of Austria. 

The pink Neos are led by Matthias Strolz, from whose campaign I could mainly notice that he tends to get overly upset and resented the moment of sustaining a debate with other candidates. His style is likely not ideal for a chancellor of a republic.

If one wishes to choose a party with alternative ideas, maybe is the “green party” the one to elect. As its name indicates, they would of course take care of the environment as one of their priorities, however, they do not have much acceptation. The main candidate for the green party, Ulrike Lunacek, would likely be a good representant of Austria abroad, but she is not as popular as her party camerade Alexander van der Bellen who won in the last presidential elections (thanks to his election in the big cities, see previous figure).

This Sunday I can only impatiently wait to see the results and afterwards reproach or congratulate friends and colleages that were born in this colorful country. One thing is for sure, this election can’t be as bad as that in an english speaking country on the other side of the atlantic ocean.

Reference from pictures:

1. Advertisement XXXLutz 2017


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.