Thursday, September 29, 2005

New flight schedule

I got an email today that informed me, my flight home was rescheduled. And it's not getting any better. In stead of the leaving at 11am and arriving at 9am, I'm now leaving at 7am and arriving at 7am and instead of 1h in chicago I have a 2.5h transfer in washington dc. Well it sucks, but what can you do about it? Sure you can make a scene and everything, but hey, I'll try to sleep anyway and I'll just take a long coffee-break in washington. It's a long tiring journey anyway...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An other shade of green....

We went to see Jimmy Eat World and Greenday in the Memorial Coliseum, Portland, last night. And well, it was not what I hoped for. Before I start complaining, let me point that I think Greenday has written a bunch of very catchy songs with sometimes funny an lately nice and critical lyrics. I liked them in the early and mid-nineties when I was discovering punk-rock bit by bit. It's just that....

Apparently Greenday is HUGE in the USA which in part might explain why we we're watching the Billie Joe Armstrong show, with the only need for the crowd to go crazy was for him to be there.... Unfortunately his crowd participation thing heavily relied on shouting "hey Portland!" or "hey-hooo!" with which he unfortunately was assured of thousands of people responding loud with brilliant responses such as "yeah" and "hey-hoo". Don't get me wrong, that's okay if you do it once or twice but every f*****g 5 minutes??!! The in-between-songs were awful, with BJA taking any pose whatsoever for god knows how long and the crowd going crazy with their annoying high pitched children voices. Maybe I'm getting old but I always think something is wrong when the audience is filled with kids that brought their parents for guardiance. Just like I start to worry if I see too many Blink182 t-shirts, women in high heels, girls dressed like Avril and guys wearing make-up. They were all there....

We just saw a little bit of Jimmy Eat World, which wasn't impressive but not bad either. The music preceeding Greendays show gave me hope. I heard the ramones, the clash, less than jake, bu then something awful happened... Y.M.C.A.... I guess in the USA this song doesn't have the "gay" image it has in the Netherlands or I was surrounded bij thousands of queers. Just to make clear, I don't have a problem with homosexuals, I have a problem with an enormous mass of people doing the arm movements to form the Y.MC.A. letters. Greenday played tight and the lights and firework were great but the crowd and the hey-ho's drove me nuts. And I don't mind it if there are one or two sensitive songs, I can even deal with the occasional ligter in the air but that much and that often? Give me a break! Apparently the lighter has been overtaken by the now hugely popular act of putting your mobile phone in the air, wow, al those lit displays really set a wonderful atmosphere.....NOT!!

Then greenday did this Operation Ivy cover "Knowledge". I love OpIvy, and Greenday covered this song nicely on their 1991 album "smoothed out slappy hours", but they played it not very well now and they thought it necessary to form a band out of people from the audience and let them play. Great for those people, a shame for the song. The first half an hour I thought we were listening to the cd-presentation of "american idiot", since no song older than two years was played. They made up for that later in the show by playing some classics though.

To summarize; Greenday was thight, but predictable, annoying and boring in-between songs. The audience was, well how will put it, "not my kind of audience"... They would have fitted well at a bitney spears concert with their hysterical teenage shouting.

Why was this show such a disappointment, I ask myself. Well I can think of a couple of reasons. Apparently I was wrong thinking Greenday has even a bit of Punkrock spirit left. They obviously have turned into this mega-pop-rock-punky sensation. The stuff MTV feeds the kids like geese in French foie gras farm. And apparently they're okay with it since the interaction between band and crowd wouldn't misfit a backstreet boys concert. Are we talking "american idiot" or "american idols"? An other thing is the location; until about ten years ago the Memorial Coliseum was the home of the Portland Trail Blazers and NBA games were played there. I don't like big venues and I don't seats during a (punk)rock concert. Another minor thing was the fact that the strongest drinks inside the hall where strawberry lemonades. Sure there was beer, but no way you can have a beer and watch the band at the same time. The idea alone; ridiculous!

To conclude; luckily there's no audience or attitude on the albums, so I really think this is the best way to enjoy greenday these days. I'm sorry if I sound like a negative, critical, old asshole. Cause maybe that's just what I am when it comes to music. I don't say everything used to be better, but I sure liked greenday better when the were an other shade of green....

*Maybe it was a cultural thing as well. This might just be totally american, but I don't think (and hope) so.

**something completely different; can any of you dutch people come up with a proper dutch word for ignorance? "onwetendheid" misses something, I'm just wondering if we even have a word like that....

Monday, September 26, 2005

Today's surgery attempt

Another week, another try! Vadim and I both performed a labyrinthectomy. Not entirely succesful but not completely disappointing either. Vadim's mouse survived but needed a second shot of anesthesia during the procedure. It is now having some trouble coming out of it, but it's still alive so it looks hopeful. I was a little less lucky. The procedure went great and fast enough. Unfortunately the animal died during the procedure. That can happen, it's just very annoying that we don't know why it died. It didn't bleed at all and we were supposedly on the safe side with our dose of anesthesia. We'll just try again tomorrow and if Vadim's mouse survives we might do some recording. So work is in progress, we're getting better and succes is close... I'll keep you posted..

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Just a pic....

Dunno, just a pic, no need to explain..


Yesterday after watching Max's soccer match, I made pannenkoeken. These dutch pancakes are rather different from their american counterparts. They're thinner and bigger. I made a lot but today we are already approaching the bottom of the pile so I guess it won't get wasted. I was Bella's first time she had pannekoeken and she especially liked the cheesy ones. That morning we went to the Dutch store to get some stroop (a kind of syrup, you put on the pannenkoek) and many other things you never realise are unique for the Netherlands when you see them in your supermarket every week. A sure treat for the immigrant and the accompanying kid that is allowed to get his own assorting of "dropjes". Other than that there is not a lot to tell. Time flies now that I have some practical work to do besides writing my report and the weekends are gone before you know it.

To top it off for the night I changed the music again. Has any of you ever had the weird experience you always kind of liked a certain band but than one day you listen to it again after you haven't listened to it for a while and you totally love them. And you just can't figure out was has caused this change, since it's the same music it was years ago. Well, I have had that with the Clash and it was starting when I wrote that post about it a while ago. Right now I listen to it practically every day when I go to work and it never gets boring. These guys just made some awesome music and it's just weird I never fully realised that. Also I promised Martin I wouldn't mention his soccer-matches on my blog so I won't ;P


This week I performed my first operation on the mouse inner ear. I'd love to tell you people what it's like but that's hard to do without giving some detailed information about the anatomy of the ear first. This first picture is of a mouse's skull. The hole at which is says external auditory meatus is basically the ear-opening and in the mouse it has a diameter of approximately 1 mm. That's our starting point But to get there we should make a little incision between the mouse's eye and ear and make our way through some muscle and fat tissue. Needless to say that the mouse is at that moment under anesthesia and it won't feel a thing. Once we have our ear-opening free we remove the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and we can see the inner ear. This procedure and everything from that point is done with tiny tools and under a microscope. In the inner ear there are three little bones that are interconnected and are there to transport the oscillation we call sound from the tympanic membrane to the deepest part of the inner ear; the cochlea where the auditory nerve takes the signal to the brain. The three little bones are called malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup). The lower picture shows you the orientation of these bones. The picture is of a human ear, but in the mouse it's very similar (only a lot smaller and other angles). We remove the malleus and incus pretty easy, but the stapes offers a problem. As you can see in the picture it has a triangular shape and right through the middle goes a major arterie. Avoiding bloodloss is already very important since a mouse only has about three mililitres, but with such a (relatively) big arterie we have to be extra careful. So we use a microdrill to drill away a pice of bone to create better acces to the arterie and than we coagulate it (burn it shut). Than we can remove the stapes, if it is not burnt during the coagulation already (remember those bones are a couple of micrometres in size) and we will see the oval window which is the entrance to the inner ear. We then inject a little bit of neurotoxin in the inner ear and plug it off with gelfoam. The mouse gets put back together with about three stitches and the Labyrinthectomy is complete. Won't the animal be deaf on one ear then, you might ask. Well, yes it would be, but more importantly the neurotoxin will destroy the receptor haircells of the vestibular system, so no "balance-information" will be provided by that side of the head. This is an important aspect in our research to unravel the neural circuitry behind balance maintenaince. It would go to far to tell you why, and besides I don't think many of you will truly be interested in that. If you are, I'll be more than happy to explain it to you one day....

Last week we haven't actually let a mouse come out of the anesthesia, because we had to practise the technique first. I'm new to the basic idea of operating an live animals and Vadim who has many years experience in neurosurgery had done these operations on rats and rabbits but it was his first time on a mouse as well. Our conclusion is that it is definately doable, but I should get a little faster. Right now it takes me about 1.5h and that for the best result we should do it within the hour to keep the mouse in shape and under anesthesia. We will try that next week, so we can monitor the recovery of the mouse better.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Missing out on a great trip...

Grrr, I am missing out on the annual sailing trip of Sita's family. That's really a shame cause it's always one of the best weekends of the year. Just being at the sea all the time. Wind, sun, coffee, beer and the most insane, meaningless, but highly entertaining conversations.... Well, too bad, there's nothing I can do about it, but I'm missing out on these kind of views:

CS Lewis

I finished "The Chronicles of Narnia" tonight. I read the seven books in chronological order, which is the way the author, CS Lewis, said he preferred it to be read (although there is discussion wether reading it in publishing order wouldn't be better. Frankly I think it doesn't really matter).

It wasn't the first time I read the books. I have read them a long time ago when I was (and this is a guess) about ten years old. I don't know wether I have read them all back then and although a lot of it was a feast of recognition, there was also some stuff I didn't remember. The first book "the magician's nephew" was kind of disappointing. Was this really the series I loved when I was a kid? Narnia didn't seem as exciting as I remembered it to be. But everything turned out well with the "the lion, the witch and the wardrobe" altough I still thought there was a lot more action in the story I remembered than there seemed to be right now. "The horse and his boy" was ok, but not very exciting either. It was when I was reading "Prince Caspian" when it all came together and the world of Narnia as I remembered it started to live again. "The voyage of the dawn treader" and "the silver chair"kept that feeling alive very well, while in "the last battle" mr Lewis kind of went overboard on the symbolism. But he 's forgiven. I loved rereading "the Chronicles of Narnia" which I now consider to be one of the best series of books that are interesting for both children and adults. It doesn't rank as high as Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" but if you like one, you will most probably like the other. Tolkien and CS Lewis were friends and I wonder what kinds of discussions those two will have had that led to the creation of both "middle earth" and "narnia". Maybe I need to find a more historical book on that(or do a nice modern google search), or maybe any of you might know more about that andcares to let me know.

Disney is turning "the lion the witch and the wardrobe" into a major motion picture that will probably hit the cinemas right before christmas. I wonder if it will be any good, the strength of the narnia series lies in the complete chronicles. At least for me it's that way. Nevertheless I will probably try the movie, but I also wanted to see "the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy" which is one of my alltime favorite books. After all the bad reviews the urge kind of faded and I still haven't seen it.

By the way; I changed the site's music to the Foo Fighters - Cold day in the sun. I intend to switch it a lot just to try keep it interesting and reflecting my current interests. And yes, Deborah was right, the last Foo Fighters album is way better than the previous one!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

New feature for Firefox users

I needed a break from science today and started playing around with the html-code for this site again. I added background music; a short clip will automatically start playing when you open the site. That is, if you're not still one of those ignorant people that use Microsofts Internet Explorer as a browser, cause then it won't work. If you use a proper browser like firefox, a mediaplayer control bar will show up in the side-bar and you can turn of the music if you don't like it. But it will only play once and it's just a couple of seconds.

Maybe this will turn out to be a very annoying feature and then I will get rid of again, but for now, I've had some coding-fun, so you'll have to deal with it. The clip playing at the moment is "Angel wings" from the Social Distortion album "Sex, love and Rock'n'Roll". I plan to change the clip regularly, that is, IF I decide to keep the feature.

I don't know wether it will work in Netscape, Opera or others. It probably will, since it's always microsoft that has to do things differently....

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Efficiency and stomach pains...

My stomach hurts, but it's my own fault. Although circumstances are not entirely within my control, I can blame no one but myself. Today was a day in which I did not do a crazy lot but what I did sorted result....yeeeeeeeeh for efficiency! I had a talk with my professor earlier this week about the practical work in progress at the moment. The lab is running out of money, so pisriorities are with finishing grant proposals . This basically means that the only practical work going on at the moment is some molecular work in order to create some nice pictures to accomodate the grant proposal.

The new behavioral experiment I designed with Neal will have to wait longer, because the necessary new device is far from ready. We actually decided we're giving up the hope of it being ready in time. If the device is ready (and that'll probably take another week or two) we still have to finish the electronics for it, which is another couple of weeks. Well, I will only be here for 7,5 more weeks so I don't have that kind of time. All I am doing at the moment is work on my final report, which is a lot of work but predominantly theoretical, and I would like to do some practical work as well. I did not go to the USA just to sit behind my laptop and type! So we decided we will attempt to do some more electrophysilogical experiments. We will perform unilateral laberinthectomies in mice and record from Purkinje cells. This fits into the experimental switch from rabbit to mice since Neal and Vadim did such an experiment on rabbits in 2003 and a similar result in mice is a necessary result to validate the interneuron recordings in mice.

I also decided which PhD project I want to work on. If it's up to me, I will stick with the high potential project on conscious visual perception. So that's decided, another problem of my mind. This lead me to start planning my master's thesis a little further. My master's administration agrees on the rest of my planning so this is the last thing I have to arrange. I want to do the thesis on (un)conscious visual perception, since it's interesting and may serve as a nice introduction for the PhD project. The thing I have to decide on is who I will ask to supervise and assess the thesis. My preference lies with a professor in Amsterdam but then I need to have a second supervisor at my own university again. I have not figured out who to ask for that yet, but there are a couple of professors that would be suitable.

After all that planning stuff (which is more than just make a decision, I read a lot of articles to come up with the choices I think are right) I noticed my thermos of coffee was empty and it was close to 6 pm already. On my way home I realized the house would be filled with the ladies of my aunt's bookclub. Thinking how that wouldn't be the best circumstances to make dinner I decided to pick up some dinner on the way home (hey, it's the USA the streets are flooded with food providing venues). So I dropped by Taco Del Mar and got a burrito platter. And I thought Taco Bell made good mexican food: This was so much better! It was actually so good that when I came home and noticed all the women I slipped downstairs to my room and ate it TOO FAST, for which I am now paying the price :S Well actually since I started writing this post the feeling that I'm about to explode has pretty much faded.

You see, writing about it how you feel does help you to deal with your problems!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Boys will be boys....

Hehe, need I say more?

Friday, September 09, 2005

Work and play....

So another week in the USA has passed and I've been so busy I already typed a sentence saying nothing really happened when I realized that that's not true. Monday was labour day, which means a day off and it was also the last day of summer vacation for Max, so we made it a fun end of summer. We went to a Family Fun Centre, where we played mini-golf (and don't call it midget-golf in the USA, cause Grumpey will sue you right away!), all kinds of fair-like games which got Max the winning mood of a true gambler, and Martin and Max did a bumperboat ride (including watercannons!). Bella was less fortunate; to maintain her falling streak she had set in the week before by running into a door-post, she was walking one way and looking another way on the mini-golf course... And mini-golf courses are full of obstacles that make you trip, fall, bump, your head and cut yourself. Besides this little drama it was a fun day that was concluded with a cinema visit to watch "March of the Penguins". A very cool movie about the extreme conditions penguins on antarctica have to withstand to reproduce succesfully.

For dinner Martin made very nice chicken-sateh. And now my request to all you readers in the Netherlands; for a good american chicken-sateh we use a marinade of dutch/indonesian nasi mix. Which is something they don't sell here. So, I know there are very many better causes to help out, but if you want to make a pseudo-dutch family in the USA very happy send in those envelopes of conimex!! You can ask me for the adress and of course postage will be reimbursed on request...

And the rest of the week I just worked and worked and worked. The new stimulus/recording device still is far from ready and the people in the lab are all working on writing grants (to ensure there is money for research last year) and finifhing the manuscript of the previously executed electrophysiology experiments. So, to put it shortly, the only experiments that are done right now, are done to get preliminary molecular data for the grant proposal. And that is not something for me to work on. So with no electrophysiology in progress and the materials for the newly proposed behavioral experiments far from ready I am working on my report all day every day. Which is something that is kind of booring but also satisfying when it is working out nicely. I intend to write a report with four major chapters, one giving background information on the cerebellum (anatomy, cellular organisation, function), the vestibular and visual systems and the circuitry involved and one for each experimental line (electrophysiology, behavioral neurobiology and computational neurobiology) I have been involved in.

That's where it is getting difficult though. I first spend a couple of months exploring a simulation model of the cerebellar circuitry. This computermodel together with literature was a nice way to get the hang of the circuitry, but I left the model after thinking over how our hypotheses could fit into the model and never went through the trouble of actually programming that, since I didn't think that would make any difference for our research. Well I guess I can still write that.. Then there's the behavioral neurobiology, we came up with a nice idea, I build some rather simple devices to check some assumptions (all just by observing, never actually recording or measuring anything) and then we told the engineers what we wanted them to build. Till today we only have an official drawing of the sketches we made and still no device, and therefore no pilot experiments and no data, let alone results and conclusions. It's good thing the electrophysiology manuscript is almost ready. Although I am not one of the authors of the article I did work in that project to learn about the techniques and that promises to become a nice chapter.

I finally got a reply from my master coordinator today telling she agrees with the way I intend to get all my required study-points. That's a good thing, so as soon as I have decided what project I want to do for my PhD (yep I'm still in doubt) I can make arrangements for my final thesis and graduation is coming closer. Today I realised I have to give a final presentation of this internship, but it would be nonsense to do it in the group I am working in, cause I'll be telling them exactly what they thaught me and what they do theirselves. Maybe I can give a final presentation in the Netherlands where people might actually hear something new. That would be better I guess. Well, I'll figure that out later....

For now I'll take a last cup of coffee and write some more before I start my weekend. This report is gonna be huge. It is already 41 pages and that's that's only a (not quite finished) background chapter, and the first draw of the first electrophysiology experiment. Adding references would account for at least 5 pages and the other two research chapters will problably take some space as well. I guess difficult topics require long explanations, or maybe I just have a tendency to write too much. Judging from the length of this post, that just might be the case....

Friday, September 02, 2005

Popquiz; What band never covered the Clash?

No really I think it's one of the most covered bands ever and then I'm not even mentioning the influence on the sounds of punk and rock as we know it. Wow Chris, that's pretty strong propaganda coming from someone that wasn't even born when the Clash released their most famous abum "London's calling". Where did that come from, you might ask. Well, let me tell you; since the formatted iPod debacle I have been limited in my choice of music and as most of you will probably agree, that's not something one should be limited in. Well, in my attempts to get the new Transplants album "Haunted Cities" I encountered "Streetcore" by Joe Strummer and the Mescalero's. For those that lack a memory or love for useless musical facts; Joe Strummer was the singer of the Clash. He died in 2002 from a heart attack just after he finished this album. And this album is just fabulous! Don't expect to hear the clash or some awesome punk, it's more of a folky rock'n'roll thing (making up genres is not really my cup of tea, maybe Lucas and Joost can help me out here?!) Of course this album led me to relisten the Clash albums that are probably enormously underrated by the largest part of my generation. They absolutely kick ass! I liked 'em before, but I love 'em now. I fought the Clash and the Clash won!!

Whilst on the asskicking, old music-train I relistened Minor Threat, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, the Business and Social Distortion. Complemented with Johnny Cash, Joey Ramone and Billy Bragg it made a fine mix. But I didn't forget to get involved in more recent music; the new MxPx "panic", the last Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards "Viking", the new Dropkick Murphy's "warrior's code", the last Foo Fighters "In your honor" and I found a great Rancid Live album "live in Nottingham" where it al comes together when Lars Frederiksen dedicates the Billy Bragg song "To have and to have not" (previously covered by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards) to the late Joe Strummer. Who said this wasn't a coherent post?

And the take home message: Go check out the mentioned albums, if there's some sense of music in you there will at least one that you like...

By the way; I think Jimi Hendrix never covered the Clash :P (given the chronology of events) But would he had he lived later or longer? That's the kind of "back to the future"-madness that could change the evolution o rock and punk forever. Wow, this has turned in total and utter nonsense! But still, you're reading it; what does that say about you??

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Choices, choices....

I received an email today from my future boss informing me that another research project proposal got granted. Two months ago when we had our first talk about my future possibilities as a PhD student in his lab, this proposal was only just submitted and he asked me my preference in research projects; the already granted project investigating "conscious visual perception" or the submitted one "spatial abstraction and categorisation" (in simple words "controlling what you see" and "spatial orientation"). Back then I thought both projects sounded like interesting and fun. Both used similar techniques (fMRI, electrophysiology and psychophysics). CVP had a larger international outreach, SAC a more concrete aim. I told him I did not really have a preference and I got the job for the CVP-project. All good.

Well today I got this email telling me the SAC-project got granted as well and if I would be willing to switch to the SAC so someone else could start on CVP right away (since I will only be able to start in february or march). Now I don't know what to do. Since I got really enthusiastic about the CVP over the last months I think I prefer not to switch, but is a first thought the right one? I should read in on the SAC and see if my first thought lingers on. For the type of work it wouldn't matter, same methods (other stimuli though), same lab, same pay.... It's the context that makes the difference; what ultimate goal do I consider more attractive to work on for 4 years, do I want to work in a biology-physics context or a biology-psychology context, do I want to flirt with a scientific approach to an age old philosophic problem or do I want to work more applied, is the collaboration with Harvard/Princeton/Salk/Sydney that important to me?

I realize that this is a luxury problem. I didn't graduate yet, still I'm sure of a nice PhD-student position and I'm nagging on about how hard it is to choose between two projects... But still it decides what I'll be doing for four years and what I'll get a PhD in which might be important for the rest of my scientific career.. Sigh, and I don't even know why I am posting this, it's not like any of you will some up with the solution (although I dare you to!). I have to figure this one out myself...