Sunday, December 27, 2009

Weihnachtsmärkte in Dresden

This year I stayed in Dresden for Christmas. I used the opportunity to get in as many Weihnachtsmarkt trips as possible. I also got a new camera very recently, just in time to take lots and lots of photos of these Chistmas markets. It even snowed the week before Christmas, to make the little markets even more fairytale-like....

Here's some photos of most of the ones in the region around Dresden


Have to start with the Striezelmarkt because it's the largest in Dresden and oldest Christmas market in Germany. It started in 1434, which makes this year's market the 575th version (!!).
However, being large and old is about the most this market has going for it. It generally has the feel of an overpacked outdoor shopping mall, so if you're not in the right mood it can loose any charm real quick. I have to say, though, that every single year I've come to this market to buy a Stollen and a Räuchermann (smoking incense man) or two, because you get the best selection with the hundreds of stalls. I went down this year on Christmas eve and it was still completely packed right up until closing, lots of families were down there having Glühwein. I should also point out that there was actually a considerable effort by the city/organizers to change up this years market. The stalls were no longer arranged in rows, but more random, with occasional small platz areas, which gave it a less commercial feel and more room for people to hang out and enjoy their hot Glühwein. There was also a pretty cool display on baking Stollen, where they had some guys making it from scratch and baking it in a woodfire oven. You could then buy the dough or the Stollen right there if you chose. It was quite nicely done and the guys were very friendly and funny and full of history of the Stollen.

Stallhof Weihnachtsmarkt

In the past this has been my favorite Chrsitmas market. It has a medieval theme, and was always quite cozy and unique, even down to the mugs the Glühwein, or Met (mead), came in. And then two years ago, just after the results of a nation-wide survey labeling this the best Christmas market in Germany, there was a serious fire which damaged much of the market and the castle it was in. They got things back together for the next year, but the fire meant that they chnaged a lot, and it's just not the same. It's much less cozy with more open spaces. There is no longer a large fire to sit around. And this year there appears to be new management, because the food and drink offerings have even changed (including the beloved mugs), and the vibe just isn't the same. Nevertheless, a nice time.

Neumarkt Weihnachtsmarkt

While the Stallhof market was a bit of a let down, the new market just around the corner on the Neumarkt in front of the Frauenkirche was a fun surprise. It also has somewhat of a medieval theme, but nothing forced, so that it's just more like a nice market without any obnoxious stands selling horrible crap or with large flashing lights. And it makes sense that they should actually finally have a market on "Neumarkt", where you envision markets having stood hundreds of years ago.

Elbhangfest-Weihnachtsmarkt am Körnerplatz

I only discovered this market a couple of years ago. It's pretty small, but very cute, settled among some shop buildings with very nice traditional architecture.

Meissener Weihnachtsmarkt

I was really excited to check out the Weihnachtsmarkt in Meissen for the first time. The old town Meissen is such a beautiful little city with little alleys and old buildings - it seemed like a nice Christmas market location. Also, this photo from the webpage is really really nice and cozy:

In the end it was a bit of a disappointment, mostly just because I had already been to so many Christmas markets and without any theme or anything this one just kind of did not stand out. It was also very cold that evening. And it was rather small. On the other hand, I did try for the first time get to try Weißer Glühwein, made from the local Meissen wines.

Hauptstrasse Weihnachtsmarkt

This market, closest to my house, is nice as well, but also does not particularly stand out for any reason. They did have a giant Stollen on top of a Trabi, which was impressive:

Königstein Weihnachtsmarkt

Along with Meißen, I was excited to check out for the first time the market in Königstein. Festung Königstein is an old impressive fortress built a ways upstream from Dresden on the Elbe. It appears very cold, scary, and uninviting from the outside, particualry in a dark snowstorm.

I really enjoyed this market. It also had somewhat of a medieval theme, which fit. And maybe it was because we hiked up through the snow on unlit trails for 30 minutes to get there, but it was quite cozy inside with a hot Glühwein:

And of course the snowfall was a nice touch

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Jam Music

From the new Gomez - Airstream Driver

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trabi goes to Krakow

It's been about 6 months since Cliff and I took our journey to Krakow in the Trabi. After that adventure I managed to write a post about the car, but not about going to Krakow. Now that last weekend I took it up to Berlin for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, I figure it's a good time to talk about the Krakow trip. If you don't know about the Trabi, read the post linked above. One thing that was clear to Cliff and I after we got the Trabi was that it needed to be taken on a road trip. This idea was met with great bewilderment and skepticism by most. Their next comment was either "WHY would you want to take that thing on a long trip?" or "There's NO WAY that thing will make a trip like that." The answer to the first question is much the same as that to those that asked why we would even want to own/drive a Trabi at all: If you have to ask, it's not even worth trying to explain it to you.

Part of our motivation for the trip was just to silence all the haters. People seem to have forgotten that this was almost the only car that anybody owned here 25 years ago, and believe it or not, they did go on long vacations. And survived.
And so it was that Cliff an I decided to take it for a weekend to Krakow, where neither of us had been before. It's about a 500km trip each way - doable in a day. bust just barely. You can't be in a rush with a Trabi. Gotta take it easy and enjoy the ride. Notice how we are passed as if standing still:

Aside from some bad traffic and construction, the trip there went pretty smoothly. We made it to Krakow before dark, which was about our goal. When you drive a Trabi around in Dresden, nobody really cares. There's a relative abundance of them here. Chances are if you drive around for 15 minutes in Dresden, you will see one. This is not the case elsewhere. like Poland. People were freaking out a bit when they would see us. Wherever we stopped, cameras came out. Cars would even pass us on the highway with their cameras snapping away. I guess it IS pretty rare to see one out on the highway or autobahn. After all, WHY would anybody take one of these things on a long trip?

When we got to the hostel we asked the guy there where would could park our car that would be relatively safe. He called up a pay lot around the corner and told them we were coming. He asked us what we were driving and when we replied "A beige Trabi" he got pretty excited in a very Eastern European accent exclaimed, "AHHHH!! A TRABANT!!" respect. By the way, this was maybe the best hostel I've ever stayed at, so check it out if you're in Krakow: Mundo Hostel very chill, very clean, very cheap, perfect location.

Krakow itself was also a pleasant surprise, even though we were only there for a couple of days. We cruised around and checked out the nightlife in the evening, took in the historic tourist sites during the day. The first night we were out we were looking for a late-night bite to eat, and came upon a small building where there were multiple lines of people buying some sort of take-away food. We thought it would be a pretty good bet to get in the longest line to get some authentic Polish grub. It turns out what we were waiting in line for was Zapiekanka. It looked like a french bread pizza from far away, but upon biting into it was a totally different flavor experience, hard to describe even. It was like some sort of cooked squash or mushroom, covered with some cheese, then topped off with a little salami, some pickles, and some sort of sweet tabasco/ketchup-like sauce (but not really spicy) Little did we know this is a pretty famous snack at a pretty famous spot (found out the next day on a tour). So that was a win. The next day we went for another Polish classic: Pierogi. We ate at a place recommended to us that basically only served Pierogi, and we got a sample platter with out 12 different kinds.... Mmmmm.

We also decided it would be appropriate, since we came in the Trabi, to make a voyage out to the socialist realist city, Nowa Huta. This was one of the few cities actually planned and designed from the ground up to fit to the socialist ideal. They actually have a popular tour you can take of Nowa Huta in a real life Trabi for 40 euros. Here we are with our own Trabi in front of the Steel Works just outside the city. There was actually a funny moment in the hostel the next morning. We were talking with some other guests, mostly Polish and German, a bit about communist architeture and society. They seemed to think there were better ways to spend our time than visiting Nowa Huta, we thought it seemed interesting. We explained we were from Dresden, where you also see a lot of it. Like most people, they were bewildered that we came from Dresden in a Trabi. In talking about Dresden, Cliff starting relaying his feelings on how East Germans seem in general more friendly than in the West, more casual, more family oriented, and maybe this was from being brought up in a socialist state. The others sort of anxiously disagreed, kind of taken aback that at the suggestion that anything good could have resulted. And then Cliff starts talking about how nice Nowa Huta was, with the large green areas, and that it was well designed and may have been a nice place to live, from a physical standpoint. And I could see these guys thinking "Americans, come over to live in the former East Germany for some reason, buy a Trabant, drive the damn thing all the way to Nowa Huta, and are here telling us how great socialism is???" I wanted to then be like "so what do you guys know about the modern communist party? maybe you would like to take some of these flyers here....." cause that's where it seemed like it was going.

The way back much more more eventful than coming. For starters, we stopped on the way and took a long tour of Auschwitz, which was basically beyond words to describe. Sort of mind- and body-numbing. I think anybody should really go there, but you will be a zombie for a day in disbelief and reflection and just walking on the same grounds, the same train tracks, the same buildings......

One of the quirks of the Trabi is that there is no gas gauge. Basically you have a reserve 'tank', that you kick over to when you run out of gas, and then go fill up. Once you hit the reserve, you have about 4-5 liters (just over a gallon) of gas left. Well, we were cruising our way back and hit the reserve, as we always do, and looked for the next gas station. And looked. and waited. and 30 miles later, still no sign. Finally we saw a sign for gas in a few kilometers, but knew it was gonna be a close one. Well, we didn't make it. We came to a stop in front of a sign signalling 1 km to gas. And so we had to walk to the station for gas.

And then to top off the adventure we kinda made a wrong turn coming back into Germany and added a couple extra hours onto our trip home. This also meant driving in the middle of the night, tired, and trying to navigate our way on country roads through little German towns. I guess it was inevitable that we were gonna get flashed. We managed to each pick up a ticket within about an hour, crusing through these little towns, where nobody is out, but they've changed the speed limit from 80 to 50 or whatever for half a kilometer and put a box there:

(click to enlarge)

good times.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I came across this web application on a random interweb walk. Wordle. Very very fun.
You just give it text (or a website) and it makes a word cloud, with the size of the word proportional to the frequency at which it occurs in the text. And there's tons of options for the layout. I played around and came up with the following clouds:

First is from the text of my last first-author publication (without bibliography):

I think the font and rigid borders, and B&W text conveys the feeling of a publication. Then I gave it a shot and pasted in my entire PhD dissertation, about 150 pages (also without bibliography):

Not to be completely science-fixed, I entered in the text from a dream that I had, which I had written down and later transcribed into the computer.

seems like a really cool way to display dreams. I was able to modify the colors and word-layout format to make it dreamy-like. And finally, the text from my "research plan" that describes my research goals for the next 4-5 years as I look to start my own lab:

Here the font and colors kind of represent creativity and brain-storming that goes into putting something like this together.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Impressions of Iceland

Back in July I made a short trip to Iceland. Mom was there with a friend on a week and a half birdwatching/nature tour, and so it was another good opportunity to meet up in Europe for a mini-vacation, as I did last year when I met her in Venice, which unfortunately I never got around to posting about. I did however manage to put up a few photos from that trip here.

Mom and I planned that I would arrive in Iceland the same day her tour ended and we would cruise around for 4 days. I had no idea what to expect from Iceland, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Here are some interesting photos I took when we were out on a boat for a whale-watching tour:

That's a puffin in the last photo. They are pretty cool little birds, and fun to watch flying and swimming around. I learned when I was in Iceland that the German word for Puffin is "Papageitaucher", which translates back into English literally as "Parrot Diver". Nice.

And we did see some Minke whales, but the whale watching experience was overall just not all that impressive, the whales were always far from the boat and would only partially break the surface to breathe. Here's the best photo I got with my telephoto lens:

Seems like a nice view of the whale and the dorsal fin, until you see what a whole Minke whale looks like and realize most of the whale is just underwater and this is just a little part if its back.

And we never saw more than that.

As it was July, we had the neat opportunity to experience what it's like to be so far north in the middle of the summer. It really hit home one evening when we decided to stop off at a lighthouse on the way home and watch the sunset. It was starting to get late (like 10pm or so), and it looked like the sun would soon set. So we parked the car and got out and took some pictures.

And we waited around and took some more pictures, and watched some ducks, and then realized we'd been here for an hour and a half and the sun had barely approached the horizon.

It was like a never ending sunset. I think it was about 12:30am and we finally decided to head home, but the sun hadn't yet touched the horizon. You just start feeling tired and realize you should really be getting to bed.
Now, to further illustrate the point, here is a photo I snapped this quickly one night from my hotel room. What you see here is a rainbow. Yes, it's a crappy photo. But I took this photo at midnight. At midnight! How many people have seen a rainbow at midnight?!

Fun times. But it really was a bit disorienting about knowing when it was time to eat dinner and when it was time to go to bed, when it was time to wake up.

I think I'll post again (who knows when) on some of the other adventures in my short time in Iceland, including diving in a glacial spring lake at 2 degrees Celsius.

But I'll end this post with a couple screenshots from Icelandic TV. Some of the stations had movies in English. Of course Icelanders all speak perfect English. I'm sure it helps to have movies in English. And they didn't subtitle them in Icelandic, but with English subtitles. Brilliant. So educational. But it didn't stop there. I guess for the deaf viewers that did not know English, they had a dude on the screen signing the dialouge. And I don't mean a little guy in a box in the corner, but a big old superimposed hippie-guy. I mean, look at this!:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Beauty in Science

I like taking the time to take an image of a particularly stunning cell while I'm at the microscope churning through the experiments:

microtubules in yellow, DNA in green, the red is an out of focus centrosome.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Things you'll find on a lazy Sunday bike ride..... an old Soviet cemetery filled with hundreds and hundreds of graves from WW II and soon after.

I'm gonna have to go back with a real camera....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Widgets

Now that everybody seems to finally be buying macs, I thought I'd fill some blog space with the 'widgets' I use with the mac operating system. When this 'dashboard' concept first came out I thought it was pretty gimmicky, and was sure I'd never start using it. But now, 4(?) years later, I use every widget I have just about every day. So I thought I'd share with you the widgets I use to make my daily life that much easier. I don't actually spend much time looking for new widgets.
So if you have any of your own favorites, comment on what they are, there's a million out there these days, I'd be curious to know what else is cool.

In no particular order:

Leo translator widget

This is pretty invaluable. With a brush of the trackpad I get a text input to type whatever German or English word I need to translate, and then get a browser window opened up to that word on the leo webpage. I truly use this multiple times a day.

Currency Converter

I also look at this one many times a day. Watching the euro vs. the dollar mostly, but also any country I'll be visiting soon. As an example, I want to buy a camera soon that is sold in Europe, England, Canada, and the USA at different prices in different currencies. I can quickly convert what each would be in euros to see where the best deal is, having friends in the other countries that could potentially hook me up.

Yahoo Finance Stocks

I stopped looking at this one for a while because it was more depressing every day. But things are looking up now. You can follow real time updates of the dow jones, or individual stocks, or even combined mutual funds that you may have.


Needs no explanation. handy.


This guy is a real do-it all and converts various units in volume, area, length, weight, energy, temperature, time, currency, speed, pressure and power. Particularly useful for converting the more awkward metric to US conversions.


Again, self explanatory.

MPI-CBG lunch display

Pretty useless for anybody that doesn't work in my institute, this widget will give you the lunch menu for the day or future days of the week in the MPI-CBG cafeteria. Can be helpful for deciding when it's one of those days where it's time to go out for lunch, or if it's build-your-own hamburger day and you should probably show up for lunch 10 minutes earlier to avoid the lines.

MPI-CBG staff search

Again, institute-specific, but easy to quickly look up emails and phone numbers. Would be nice if it included pictures like the database, though, in case you need to find somebody you haven't met before.

Genetic Code

This is my most recent addition, and I've been using it a lot. You get all the codons plus the 3 letter and one letter amino acid code. They appear to even be color-coded as to their structure/function. With a quick brush of the trackpad, it's much faster than finding a book or website. This is my nerdiest widget.

Screenshot Plus

This guy comes in handy because I can NEVER remember the keyboard shortcuts for taking screen captures/window captures/etc. You get a number of options, then a preview, and an option to save the picture, re-take the picture, or open it up as a preview. I use this actually more than I would have expected.

Right, that's it. Le me know if there are others I'm missing out on.