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Showing posts from 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 Forschun

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 furnitur

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.


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 ba

Self-replicating code-creatures abound!

The amount of data being created every second is breathtaking (five trillion bits per second, as George Dyson tells us at ). Some take this as proof for a tremendous increase in knowledge, others spot only chatter and pocket litter - (and yes, there are estimates that half of the storage capacity - and hence half of the power consumed for 'the internet' - is used for porn). Some see much more. Already in 1955, when the Norwegian-Italian mathematical biologist Nils Aaall Barricelli had heard about the machines operating on digital code in Princeton and finally managed to go there, he experimented with self-replication and cross-breeding of random strings on that machine. Being an experimentalist he observed carefully and studied patterns that reminded him of biological systems. Couldn't computer-code be treated similarly? Shouldn't there be the possibility of evolution in code? Roger Dyson highlights the fact of universal operating systems across multiple

Don't call Big Data a Revolution

Everybody in science seems to love Big Data. Put "Big Data" in your grant proposal and your file gets on top of the pile. Sure, some had the suspicion that funding for operating with big data went up because those nerds in the basement of NSA need some help sifting through cassettes of indiscriminate tapping into every utterance of every two-legged creature on earth. Those losers obviously lack the brains to ask the right questions and to target a reasonable subset of mankind - so they just grab everything they get. And stay as blind as they were before. Of course it is difficult to find a needle in a haystack - but why dump all that hay on the needle in the first place? This aside, there are believers like Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, authors of "Big Data: A Revolution that will transform how we live, work and think" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), who marvel at the transition from trying to approach a mechanism in nature with smart experimen

Tidy up!

Not all the NSA does is bad. The huge financial support for projects developing tools for the analysis of vast amounts of data, the impressive funding of research into 'big data' in general (and the fabricated hype around it) as well as the humungous pile of dollars washing over insanely overenthusiastic mega-endeavours like the 'blue brain' project are possibly related to national interest in tidying up the discs and tapes of the data-messies at NSA and their disheveled brothers and sisters. That is good. Mom would love that. But one side-effect must not be underestimated: our site-statistics show a significant increase in traffic whenever words like 'terrorism', 'NSA' or 'national security' are interspersed. I am sure, SEO professionals would offer a list of much nastier - and therefore traffic-generating - keywords, resulting in an even bigger data-mess at NSA to clean up. Good luck!

Bureaucracy will kill terrorism

It is certainly no good idea to employ google translate to read the only german post on this blog - the one dealing with the platonic love between science and bureaucracy: 'the best of all worlds' . You might otherwise have got the impression of a verbal terrorist attack reading the stuff coming out of the google-garble fed with the first lines. Look: ' bureaucrats seem to be driving for unlimited harassment in jealousy and resentment '. (This in mind, the admission of google to scan all emails to generate a user-profile that allows for more meaningful ad-targeting is - well - scary.) But it also does no justice to the bureaucrats - scientific or otherwise. They can be quite helpful when harassing the right people. Terrorist organizations' humble aspirations to change the world and the unfallible hyperinflated egos of their selfdeclared masterminds are not as much threatened by military responses but rather by bureaucracy, as Jacob N. Shapiro explains in

Die beste aller Welten

Das größte Hemmnis in der Forschung, die furchtbarste Plage für einen Wissenschaftler, der täglichen Alptraum: Bürokratie. Kein Zweifel. Immer abenteuerlichere Abläufe und Formulare für einfachste Bestellungen, kleinteiliger Stundennachweis in Forschungsprojekten, Excel-sheets mit Leistungskosten für jeden Handgriff, Bewertung von Wissenschaft nach Kennzahlen, Abrechnungen von Dienstreisen, bei der Neid und Missgunst Antrieb für grenzenlose Schikanen zu sein scheinen. Hier verraucht Energie, die in die Forschung gehen sollte, gleich zweifach. Einmal im bürokratischen Prozess und dann im lange nachklingenden Ärger darüber. Die Folge ist eine Einstellung zur Verwaltung, die mit dem Wort ‚skeptisch’ deutlich zu wohlwollend beschrieben ist. Natürlich sind das zwei Welten, die unterschiedlicher kaum sein können. Wissenschaft befasst sich mit dem Ungewissen, dem Ungewöhnlichen, sie sucht nach dem Widerspruch und dem Abweichen vom vorher geplanten Pfad. Verwaltung arbeitet hingegen am l