Sunday, January 31, 2010

The problem with babies...

Sure, they're cute. But they cry...and they get sick. My friend had to cancel a brunch on me this weekend because her baby was not feeling well. "The baby just puked everywhere", she texted, "so I don't think we can meet up tomorrow morning". Bugger.

Then again, babies can also be the perfect alibi when you can't be f^&ked. No one ever questions the credibility of the parent if they use their baby as an excuse. "Sorry, cant make it. The baby is sick" or "Sorry, cant make it. The baby is sleeping" is much more believable than "Sorry, cant make it. I'm sick" or "Sorry, can't make it. I'm sleeping".

Saturday, January 30, 2010

New additions...

I added eight of these to my office aquarium today.

They are called spotted hatchetfish and are one of only a few species of fish that can actually fly. They do so by flapping they enlarged pectoral fins. This obviously requires quite a bit of power which is why these fish have such a weird shape (aerodynamics, attachment of muscles for powering flight). Mine are already settling into their new environment, darting around the roots of the water lettuce, and hanging out near the top portion of the aquarium.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Unforgettable toilet experiences

My uncle has been in town for work. Last night, after dinner, I took him up to the Sofitel for drinks. The toilets on the 35th floor are a major tourist attraction. Seriously. It has one of the best (free) views of the city, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Melbourne Park and the suburbs beyond. So that was the real reason why I took him up there...for the view of the city (the drinks were just an excuse). The Sofitel loos, I dare say, are the most beautiful toilet I've ever seen. Afterwards, it got me thinking. What are some of my other unforgettable toilet experiences? I've compiled a list:

1. Most fancy. This one goes to the 5-star hotel I went to in Hong Kong (can't remember the name). I was suffering from a severe case of food poisoning (I literally shat my way across the island). What made this toilet experience my most fancy was the fact that there was a toilet attendant stationed at the wash basin to help you dry your hands.

2. Most embarrassing. There are some things that your boss should never be permitted to do for you. Unclogging the toilet after you've been to the loo falls into that category. I blame Mexico, with their weak sewer pipes which are not capable of handling toilet paper being flushed down the bowl. We were at a ranch in a remote village. I had just finished my business, went to flush and, to my horror, the water level and the contents in the bowl started to rise. Fortunately there was no spill over (unlike that time in Argentina when I was'd think I'd learn from my latin american toilet experiences). I quickly told my boss. Before I could stop him, he calmly took a clothes hanger from the closet and proceeded towards the toilet saying "Dont worry. I know what to do." He never managed to unclog the loo (that was left to the owner of the ranch) but I appreciated the effort nonetheless.

3. Most bizarre. Incinerator toilet in Finland. I don't understand the logic of doing your business down a fiery pit. Seems very risky to me.

4. Most frugal. I can understand why, in some third world countries, people are charged when they want to go to use a toilet in a public space. But one thing I don't understand is how anybody can be expected to get by with 4 squares of toilet paper. That's how many I was given after paying my pesos for the privelege of using a toilet in Mexico (a different one to the one I had earlier flooded). And what is it with Mexican toilets? There are never any toilet seats on top of the bowls! I was instantly faced with having to make one of those difficult decisions. Use my 4 squares to clean the bowl before I sit down or to save the paper for use 'afterwards'. I opted for the latter, but it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my life.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Some greenery for my fish tank

I went to Bunnings today and picked up some of these for my office fish tank.

They're called water lettuce. Not surprising really, since they look just like floating heads of lettuce (but with long feathery roots that grow into the water). Being natives of the mighty Amazon, they also fit in well with the South American theme of my office aquarium. I just hope that my silver dollars (vegetarian relatives of the pirhana) leave the plants alone.

The tank, on the whole, is looking really good now....makes me want to settle into my office sofa, stare into the tank, and drink capaherinas all day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An instant Aussie family

Andrew, a friend from Canberra, texted me out of the blue. He was in town over the long weekend and wanted to catch up so we arranged to meet at Federation Square. Andrew had driven down to Melbourne with his partner Sharon and her two teenage kids. I had never thought of Andrew as the father-type before and this was the first time I had seen him interact with Sharon's children. He was great and the kids genuinely seem to adore him. Andrew and Sharon have been going out for three years now. Before that, he was the typical aussie bachelor. He lived on his own. The kitchen was a mess. The lounge room was 'yobbo minimalist': a TV set, a playstation, a reclining chair. Now, he's practically married (with kids)!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The rejection

I got an email the other day. It was from my friend Pete. It was a letter in regards to a job that Pete had recently applied for. By the looks of it, Pete was unsuccessful (yet again).

This is not the first time that Pete has forwarded me his rejection letters. I'm not really sure why he does it to be honest. He knows I am empathetic (we are both scientists) but I think he wants the sympathy. He likes to compare his situation with mine and, in particular, just how much more of a struggle it has been for him. But that's his point of view. I don't think he realises that it is tough for people in my chosen field of research too. I don't want to perpetuate the victim either. I've told him that to his face. I remind him of all the good things that have come his way but all he sees is the bad. I don't think I will reply to his email this time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Here we go again...

I'm on leave again. Yay! But I have too much work to do. Boo!

It's the grant writing season at the moment. Researchers all over Australia are trying to cobble together their ideas and submitting their requests for funding from the Commonwealth Government. Last year, I nearly went insane cobbling together my proposal. I even experienced what I thought was a heart attack (you know its bad when you accept that it might actually be better for the heart attack to kill you than to persist with the agony of grant-writing). After all the heartache (literally), the project still didn't get funded.

So...this year, I'm trying a different tact. I have a pile of papers I need to read but I've decided not to go to the office (since I'm technically on leave). Instead, I'm going to plant myself in the corner of the coffee shop at the NGV, order a soy chai latte, and try and enjoy the experience.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Overheard on the train

Woman talking on her mobile phone...

W: What do you mean they can arrest me if I turn up to court?

Later in the conversation...

W: Well, If I'm not back by five (voice trails).

Later, still, taking to a different person on her mobile...

W: I don't know why they call it 'morning sickness'. I've been feeling crook all day. A guy must have come up with the phrase.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Monogamy Myth?

A conversation this past week with a (straight) work colleague ventured into the topic of monogamous relationships. The colleague's best friend, who happens to be gay, married his same sex partner a few years ago in NZ. Since then, my colleague had regarded his best friend as the ultimate example of a committed monogamous relationship (gay or straight). During the conversation with my colleague, he recounted the shock and horror of learning that his best mate was, in fact, in an open relationship.

This conversation reminded me of a story told by one of my lecturers when I was studying at uni...

This is a dunnock, a drab, unassuming (some might even say, prudish) little bird from Europe and parts of Asia.

Back in 1853, a Reverend Frederick Morris urged his parisioners to turn to the Dunnock for guidance on moral behaviour. The Reverend wrote that the dunnock "exhibits a pattern which many of a higher grade might imitate, with advantage to themselves and benefit to others through an improved example." I guess the poor Reverend would have been turning in his grave when, more than a century later, the latest advances in paternity analyses revealed the dunnock to be, in fact, a highly promiscuous species.

So much for monogamy.

Fish Therapy

The health benefits of aquarium fish are well documented. Gazing into a fish tank, even an empty one devoid of any fish, has been shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Regular readers would know that I am a scientist and that I do research on fish. However, since taking on an academic position, I'm finding that more and more of my time is being absorbed into teaching and administration. As a result, I am finding less time for research (i.e. staring at fish) and I think these changes are taking a toll on my stress levels. Fear not, my friends; I'm trying to remedy the situation.

A few years back, I was given a huge aquarium. It takes up about a fifth of my office. I dont actually look at the tank much. The lighting was crap and I had only a single fish living in it (Sam, the saratoga). A few months ago, I decided to replace Sam (who was beautiful but way too belligerent) with a more peaceful bunch of 'community' fishes and fixed up the lighting so the tank is now looking a whole lot brighter.

I started off with six of these.

They are called Eartheaters. As their name suggests, mine spend a lot of time poking their snouts into the sand in search of food. They are really fun to watch (I think my work productivity is going to drop).

I also got one of these.

It's called a sailfin plec. Mine spends most of its time plastered to the side of the tank with his (or her?) cute sucky lips. I've been feeding it slices of boiled zuchini which I throw into the tank in the late afternoon (Plecs are nocturnal). Mine is still a bit shy (though I have ocassionally seen it swimming around the tank when the office and tank lights are off).

These are banded leporinus. I have one in my tank whom I've named Dr. Zeuss.

This is a giant pencilfish. I've called mine Mr. Squiggle.

The latest addition is Miffy, a fish that is popularly known as a silver dollar (though, in reality, the one I have is the size of a small tea cup saucer). These fish belong to the same family as the infamous pirhana. Miffy, however, is a vegetarian.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fuck it

It's been one of those weeks. The kind that actually feels like you've packed a fortnight's worth of stuff into the span of a mere five days. I left work at 7.30pm tonight but 'yay!', I survived.

I survived a committee meeting that lasted 5 hours at the start of the working week. I survived the challenges of organizing a three day science event for a hoard of screaming teenagers (and even found it rewarding). Miraculously, no child died under my watch and only a couple suffered (minor) injuries (one kid fainted and another suffered a dislocated knee at the BBQ/disco event). Sure, there were a few minor hiccups...someone left their mobile phone in a lecture theatre, I forgot to return a set of keys by the 5pm deadline, and there is a box of weird chemicals sitting in my office that I'm going to need to palm off to someone next week. But you know what? Fuck it. Fuck the phone. Fuck the keys. Fuck the chemicals. I'll deal with them on Monday.

It's the weekend....and I intend to make the most out of it. Fuck the email I just received telling me that a progress report I was suppose to write by 7 January is now overdue. I'll deal with that later. And fuck the thief (or thieves) who stole my student's video recording equipment. The insurance will deal with the equipment, karma will deal with the thief (thieves).

I'm in my pyjamas, my dinner is ready, and (once I hit the 'publish post' button) I intend to savour every minute of what the weekend has to offer.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Student performance

Earlier in the week, I sat in on a committee to discuss the fate of students who had performed badly in the last academic year.

The process on the whole was quite supportive. It's nice to know that a lot of effort is made to get to the root cause of poor academic performance and to help students wherever possible. was pretty obvious that some students simply just aren't cut out for university studies. These are the serial offenders, the ones who are given chance after chance but still perform badly. The excuses can be quite interesting too! One kid admitted acting out because his/her parents forced them into the course. Another was grieving over the loss of a family pet. The reasons for failing were quite an eye opener for me. I guess I was one of those nerdy, over-achieving types and the idea of failing even a single subject (let alone receiving straight fails) would have been absolutely mortifying.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I only met him once. He was a friend of a friend. We had a coffee at Bruneti's. He was witty, intelligent and handsome (I remember he had a beautiful jaw-line). My friend told me about this a couple of days ago. Such a waste.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Technically on leave

I've been on leave since the start of January but I've been bad. Yes, I've been going into the office almost everyday this week, everyday except today. Today I managed to get away from the city. I hired a car, dragged along some company and took in the majesty of this:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Decade in review

Was inspired by Andrew's blog to take a look back at the past decade. It was actually quite an important one for me, both personally and professionally.

2000: The year 2000 marked the start of my PhD studies. I initially started doing research on pipefishes (which are related to seahorses). My field sites were out in Botany Bay, just across from the airport. Not very glamorous at all. Every few minutes, a plane would be buzzing overhead. There was a supicious oily scum floating on the water's surface and signs warning people not to swim in the water. 2000 also was the lowest point in my life personally in terms of coming to grips with my sexuality. I shed a lot of tears that year when I was alone in my office or when I was going to bed at night.

2001: This was the year that pipefishes turned into a pipedream. The little shits were very hard to study. I soon decided to work on a freshwater fish instead. I went on a collecting trip up along the east coast of Australia with a buddy I had known since primary school. It was an amazing road trip. I got to visit some pretty special places. The highlight was lying on my back, gazing into the night sky and watching bats fluttering about in a place called the Blackdown tablelands which is situated in Central Queensland. The scariest was trudging into a river near Ingham, fully aware that there were crocs lurking nearby... the things scientists do!

2002: Went to my first international conference in Canada. I vowed never to fly with Air Canada after that trip. What a shit airline. My section of the plane was serviced by the flight attendant from hell who took a disliking to me the moment I got into my seat and went out of her way to be rude and obnoxious. This was also the year that I had my first scientific study published and it received a lot of international press, which was an unexpected surprise. Definitely a much needed confidence booster after the pipefish debacle.

2003: The highlight of the year was a round the world trip through Argentina, Brazil, the US, Finland and Singapore. The trip started off in South America. I caught up with a friend in Buenos Aires a day before the conference and we had the best steak...ever. It was in some random steak restaurant that we happened to stumble across by accident. The menu was in spanish, the waiter spoke minimal english but, somehow, through sign language and blind faith, we managed to order a fantastic meal. It pains me to say that Argentinian beef blows Australian beef out of the water. The conference itself was in Florianopolis in southern Brazil. Florianopolis is an island paradise. Even the dolphins went to there to die (as we found out when we went for a walk along the beach on our first day there). I bought a gigantic fibreglass fish ornament from a flea market in Florianopolis which I then had to cart with me throughout the remaining stop overs on my trip. Boston was terrific. I went to visit the lab where I ended up doing my first stint as a postdoctoral researcher. From the US, I headed up to Finland, where I saw my first woodpecker in the middle of Helsinki (which, I am told by bird fanatical friends, is quite a treat). I also developed a fondness for mushrooms on that trip (the edible ones; not the mind-warping varieties) after an outing into some nordic pine forest to go mushroom-picking. From Finland, I headed off to Singapore (still with fibreglass fish in tow) and some of the best food I had ever eaten (managed to gain 2kg in 3 days!). A month after I got back from my trip, I submitted my PhD dissertation.

2004: Headed to the USA for my first postdoctoral stint. It was my first time away from home and a really important year. There was something extremely liberating about heading to the otherside of the world. For the first time in my life, I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I came out to myself on that trip. The first tell-tale sign that I was in a really happy place was when I realised I was walking to work each day with a big, fat smile on my face. The work itself took me on an amazing fieldtrip to study fishes in Mexico. Wow! What a trip. I got to trek through montane rainforest, sample real tacos from a taco stand, and meet some of the happiest people on Earth. The year ended with a long trip home, a PhD graduation ceremony, a devastating tsunami, and some liberating conversations with family and friends about the real me.

2005: Another stint overseas, this time in Finland. Another amazing year making friends and getting paid to do research in beautiful places. Here is where I can also attest to the health benefits of a nordic diet. After subsisting on forest berries and atlantic salmon (at 5.90 euro/kg, who could resist?) for seven months, I returned to Australia in top health. My cholestrol levels were at an all-time low. Later in the year, I moved to Melbourne where, not long after, I was offered my current job.

2006: My first year as an academic! It felt weird to be taking on my own students and starting my own research group so soon after finishing my own studies.

2007: Decided that Mr. Right was not going to fall from the sky and that I needed to be more proactive. Geeze...I thought coming out was hard. The dating scene can be really, really scary. I went on my first date (coffee in St Kilda), experienced my first crush (with a guy called Mick), and then...I met Nathan. It was easter. We organised a meeting at the Melbourne University tramstop. We had pizza on Lygon Street. He paid (how nice).

2008: Not a terribly eventful year though I did get to go overseas twice for work. The first was to the US for a conference, the second was to attend a thesis defence in Sweden where I was the opponent. The ferry ride from Helsinki to Stockholm is one I will never forget.

2009: This was quite a stressful year on the job front. They say that the first year of an academic job is usually the hardest but my first year was a walk in the park compared to my application for promotion this year. The whole process turned out to be much more intense than I could possibly have imagined. My worst enemy I think was definitely a lack of self-confidence. When the promotion came through, I was actually more relieved than I was happy.