Oct 1, 2014

The Science Festival in Berlin

You know those science shows, right? The mad professor on TV. An Einstein-lookalike (the hair, the tongue, wild eyes, lab-coat, dry-ice, smoke, bubbles, bang!). This is the impression your kids get: science is stupid crap. Putting an egg in a microwave and watching it blow up - that is science. Freezing a rose with liquid nitrogen and then trampling on it - close to Nobel-prize.
We scientists know: it is not.
But our PR-professionals tell us that we *have to* communicate like that. We have to be accessible. That's why they always smuggle their fishy last sentence into the press-releases: 'this brings us one step closer to quantum computing' - no! 'so, time-travel seems not that unlikely at last!' - wrong!
The guy responsible for science at Der Spiegel told us years ago: 'if you want your stuff published, we need a catchy title, awesome images. And you know: sex sells'. He was not joking! And look, the most widely quoted research result of the Forschungsverbund Berlin (the administrative link-up of eight institutes our Paul-Drude-Institute is a member of) is probably the work on ... dare I say it .... Rhino insemination. (stop clicking. I just painted it blue ... there is no link here)
Remember when we opposed the view that 'every academic should be blogging'? Somebody wrote "blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now".
Listen. We have a mission. We want our scientific results to be transferred into society. It should get there as fast as possible and it should be as accessible as possible so that it can be 'used'. But it has to be the real stuff. Innovation does not come from secretly optimizing what we have. It does not come from patenting every discovery and filing it in the basement or selling it to a company (that files it in the basement). It get's there by communicating it. Professionally.
And we want the public to see why science is such an important part of our culture. I see scientists at four o'clock in the morning bursting of excitement in their lab. The public should know of those emotions. So, let's tell them.
We will try that with our Science Festival this fall in Berlin. We call it "STATE experience science festival". And that is a link you should click on! I hope to see you there.
Don't hesitate to look the festival up on facebook or twitter - and spread the news.
Wildly.

Sep 14, 2014

Elegant moss-covered furniture

We got this great side-board from a friend. He moved and had no place to put it. We moved and had no furniture. The classical win-win situation.
We now had a stylish, perfect 70s norwegian beauty in our living-room. An expensive piece that conoisseurs would kill for. It is great, it is elegant, it is big. 
Way too big for our apartment as it turned out.
So we put it in the basement.
As the basement is dark, humid, moldy - home of vicious spiders and man-eating multi-legged creatures crawling up the brittle walls and scurrying behind decaying cardboard boxes whenever you put a foot on the ground, sometimes getting inside your shirt or attacking your calves... (but this is another story) - we called my friend weekly to have him rescue that treasure.
I really felt bad about it.
But now my favorite source for ultimate taste, the treehuggers (oh, click here and there), tells me that we are way ahead, style-wise...
Some italian designers are sporting moss-covered furniture to bring biophilia into the homes and minds of the eco-aware homeowners.
But they are chicken.
Their moss is cute but dead and it is preserved in resin.
We do the living thing. The wood changes it's colour and texture almost daily now and it will not be long and the side-board will walk out of the basement all by its own (accompanied by his multi-legged friends, but this... yep... later..). 
And I am sure it will find my friend and then beware!

(Hey mate, could you please come and pick up your gorgeous element of interior design?)

Jul 15, 2014

Crabby cabbies and fish

Cabdrivers internationally are artists, musicians, dancers, writers - anything but cabdrivers. That was different in pre-oh-so-hip, pre-wall-came-down Berlin, where cabdrivers (east and west) used to be just angry, crabby old cabbies, and proud of it. They were eloquent only when it came to convincing every happy visitor why it is no good idea to be a happy visitor, ultimately proving their point by ridiculously overcharging for an annoying ride. General misanthropy wasn't fashionable only in a tiny yellow car - it was a hallmark of Berlin. Yep, east and west. A colleague of mine, coming from the Netherlands, got a convincing performance at the fish-counter of a local supermarket. When he tried to strike a jolly conversation by asking:"what goodies have we got today?!" he was served the perfectly berlinesque response: "fish.". (period.).
With the wild and art-packed Berlin going down the drain so disappears this element of style and so mutate the cabdrivers.
Recently I took one hasty ride from Berlin/Mitte to Berlin/Mitte and was confronted with one of the new Berliners behind the wheel - easily recognizable by the fact that they ask you for directions (trying to figure out if you have a clue where you are - if not, well, it will be a long and expensive trip).
Like so many of his colleagues, he was an 'artist', who ventured into Astrology, tought Reiki and won his driver's license in the lottery. He was the emblem of what is going wrong with Berlin-turning-normal: installing air commas around 'artists', taking the stars to the street, treating social pain inadequately and living off pretense.
¡No pasarĂ¡n!'

May 15, 2014

Blood!

Someone said every good blogpost starts with blood. And that guy's blog is insanely popular for good reasons.
In contrast, Richard Dawkin's blog is popular for god reasons (yeah, that was cheap).
While scrolling through my twitter timeline I am getting a bit tired of the religiously fervent atheism of @RichardDawkins whom I admittedly pity as he just completed his transformation from an interesting thinker to a t-shirt salesman. Glittery, silver double helix neclaces, bold atheist-'A' bumper stickers. Boring stuff. He must have fired his best ghostwriters after the n-th remake of his smart bestsellers (you do remember them, don't you?).
Fortunately, before wasting too much thought on why elderly men tend to get so narrow-minded, self-pitying, and self-centered (and while laboriously calculating my own age) I was getting aware of a conversation at a nearby table in the run-down coffee shop that serves the most intense espresso in town - 'so strong, they barely add water'.
I heard the one guy had just met a woman whose daughter had passed away unexpectedly, age 16 - beautiful (as he emphasized), smart, kind and the light to everybody she met. 'How,' he asked, 'how can people be religious and believe in a loving god while at the same time we see dictators celebrate their 80th birthday and 64th year in power - with a track-record in cruelty that would make Hieronymus Bosch sob?'. The lamenting went on and on, touching about every stereotype you could expect; the heartless god, the god-less world, the world-less stochastics of being human. All seemed to defy any purpose, a blip in the time-line, completely unimportant in the face of the infinite universe - it sounded so grown-up, so wonderfully materialistic, so enlightened, so Darwinian and even Dawkins-esque.
But, thinking about it, it was heartwarmingly romantic. His proof was that if all this suffering, love, heartwrenching tragedy was ignored by god then he must be absent. But being a hardened materialist, shouldn't he denounce that soft and bubbly heart-stuff altogether in the first place? Looks like the god he wished to argue away is way more materialistic than he - casting dice to determine the fate of the universe instead of accurate bookkeeeping, calculating, weighing, rewarding. And why not? Isn't the statistics of fate more fair and just than an accumulation of brownie-points of  'goodness' to trade in for a long and healthy life? Wouldn't it be entirely unfair to have a homeless alcoholic compete with a millionaire's daughter for being a better person? So, the beautiful and kind 16 year old would go on to live a long and healthy life while the misled thug gets run over by a freight-train? Come on.
But more annoying than the logical flaw in that chatter was the evangelistic tone of the anti-evangelist. One problem with atheist zealots - as with any - lies in the extremist position combined with the infinite urge to be right. It is this self-righteous indignation that seems to allow anybody to vent her anger, to rage on and ultimately kill. No matter what -ism is pulled up for justification.
And as Dawkins and friends so breathlessly argue the case for science and knowing - against believing - they seem to forget that doubt is at the core of good science. If you want to be right, no matter what, if you need it - keep out of science. If you need the 'I told you!'-effect, leave science, close the door from the outside, lock it, nail it shut and throw the key away. Because it is this desire to have an infallible guide through our wonderfully complex and at times messy world that is at the core of the extremism of any relgion.
The lack of missionary zeal, the relaxed tolerance, and sheer infinite curiosity are among the many incredible strengths of science.
Sometimes you can simply shut up and enjoy.