On the persistence of rudimentary habits

When we were kids, it was common habit to get a full body cleaning in the bathtub once a week. For a long time I could not understand why on earth this had to be done precisely on Saturday evening at around 6 p.m., just around the time when the most important TV program started: “The Flintstones“, brought to us cross the Berlin wall from a West-German TV chanel. It would be the wrong conclusion to assume that our parents tried to keep us away from this american cartoon serie, since at the same time they had no problems to permit us watching “Star Trek“, “Gunsmoke” or “Streets of San Francisco“.

So it was a perment husle to finish the Saturday evening bathing in time, before “The Flintstones” started, and I could never understand why bathing was not done on another evening, for instance at Friday or Sunday. I also found it more reasonable to have a decent bath on Friday, since this would clean us of the dirt we collected at school during the week, or have it on Sunday, to make us fresh and clean for the comming week.

Only recently I understood the real reason why kids were always given the weekly bath on Saturday evening. It obviously goes back to the times when the highlight of social life was the church service on Sunday morning. For this event, people wanted to appear clean, and since it was considered risky to go out in the cold with wet hair, right after having a bath, the whole body cleaning was done Saturday night.

It is funny, how resilent such a traditions can be, considering that we, children in the 70s in a socialist country, never went to any church service on Sunday (except when it was Christmas time to hear some music). We were also not afraid to go out in chilly weather with wet hair, since we had hair-dryers of course, but at the same time we liked to be outside with wet hair during swimming season.

But still, every kid had to get its weekly bath on Saturday evening.  I am wondering if later in life, our own son who is 16 years old now, will also wonder which strange habbits he had to follow in his youth.

A new year that started with an annoying text

Today I was ashamed to share my given name Michael with a french highly celebrated writer: Houellebecq. Since I was always distracted to read his books by the media-hype around him, I was curious today to learn something about him by reading an interview he recently gave to the french journalist Sylvain Bourmeau. After reading his stammering retraction rejection of enlightenment, his newly discovered defense of catholizism, his really stupid and uneducated opinion about Islam, I can only say that he is one of the greatest idiots who has managed to fool the literature world.

He would have done much better if he continued to work as a farmer. He would have been successful in growing cabbage, and nobody would have realized that his brain is a big cabbage as well.

Upside down waning moon

This is the waning moon on December 19th. Because the telescope optics invertes everything, and because I was too lazy to invert it back with photoshop, it looks here like a waxing moon.

Waning Moon dec2014


Leonides meteor shower 2014

In the night between Monday and Tuesday, in the early morning hours, this years peak in the Leonides meteor shower will cross the earth orbit. It is expected that with a naked eye one will spot around 12 meteors per hour. Look out in Eastern direction. As the name suggests, the meteors seem to originate from the constellation Lion. In reality, however, they don’t originate from any star, but from a former comet TEMPLE-TUTTLE, which a couple of million years ago exploded or was annihilated by spaceship Enterprise.
In case somebody has an urgent wish to address to the Leonides, I have to warn that in astronomy we are counting not days, but millions or years. So whatever wish you silently send to the meteors these nights, be a bit patient for its delivery. I, for example received something extraordinary this summer, for what I asked for already 4 years ago.

Kate Bush 2014

Creativity comes from the Freedom to Fail.  This is how Peter Gabriel explains the phenomenon of Kate Bush. She entered the musical stage in the late 70s and gave popular music some of its greatest pieces of immortal art. It is for me impossible to find a category for Kates songs. She simply invented a new one: Lyrical, philosophic sounds on a metaphysical, yet crisp-clear base. On the occasion of her 2014 reappearance on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo, BBC made the documentary “The Kate Bush Story”

Novelist Neil Gaiman was excellent on some of Bush’s intricately feminine imagery. Choreographer Lindsay Kemp spoke with undimmed reverence of her innate talent for movement, exemplified by the song “Moving”. Three men who knew her very well from the early days, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour (who got her signed with EMI), and her sound engineer and ex-partner Del Palmer gave affectionate tributes to her determination and precocity.

I have to confess that while Kate Bush released her most important pieces of music, in the mid 80s, I did not took much attention of her. Shame on me. Maybe I was a bit immature these years. I don’t know what I was listening to – probably a lot of Jazz, typical for physics students. I knew that she was singing this very special tune, with this unreal vibrato in her voice. But I did not considered it special.  Now I do. Maybe it is the possibility to see and watch on Youtube this comprehensive piece of art-work by her.  Maybe in the 80s the radiostations which broadcasted from the West to East-Germany did not played her often enough.

When Kate released her 5th studio album “Hounds of Love”, she was 27. I would argue that this album with songs like “Running up that Hill” and “Cloudbusting” was the peak of her creativity. After this, her style changed a bit, her songs became more desperate.   But I am so happy, that the 27th birthday only marked a change in Kates style, and not a existential tragedy in her life as it happened to so many other great musicians.

Full Flower Moon


The native Americans introduced special names to each full moon of the year. The May full moon was called “Flower Moon” by them.

Detour to learn Persian

After several attempts to find a web-site that could help me to learn speaking Persian, without the husle of the arab characters, I think I found a possible detour today. It is based on two more or less solid connections, which allow me to bypass the abyss of the written Persian.
I will use the Tadjik language, which is basically a form or Persian, but it has the “advantage” that it uses kyrillic characters, like Russian. Since I learned Russian already in school and later at university and at home, I can read Tadjik word without problem. Here are a few examples how well it works:


So I might soon learn some more phrases than just “Ma mirim be Madrasseh, ba Elephantenschuheh”.  The Tadjik version of Wikipedia contains today 29.633 articles and by this ranks on 89th place in terms of content size. But considering that only 4.5 million people in Tadjikistan speak the language, it is not too bad, as compared for instance with the Indian Gujarati, that has less Wikipedia article but is spoken by 50 million people.

So maybe, if there are more people who know Russian and want to learn Persian by going via Tadjik, then the Tadjik Wikipedia becomes even more popular. In addition to its being the official language in Tadjikistan, it is also common among the Tadjik minority in Afghanistan (“Dari”) and Uzbekistan. In Uzbekistan, the centers of Tadjik language are Samarkand and Buchara, so it is likely that Ibn Sina and Ulugh Beg spoke the Persian form of nowadays Tadjik.



Cloudbuster for a Tehran Nightingale

Day after day
I press my ear down to the earth,

trying to hear the sound of your blue slippers,
while you walk alonge the pavements of Tehran.

And I realized how endless can be four days,
when you stay barefoot in your own little room.

Cloudbusting (by Kate Bush)

I still dream of Orgonon
I wake up crying
You’re making rain
And you’re just in reach
When you and sleep escape me

You’re like my yo-yo
That glowed in the dark
What made it special
Made it dangerous
So I bury it
And forget

But every time it rains
You’re here in my head
Like the sun coming out
Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen
And I don’t know when
But just saying it could even make it happen

On top of the world
Looking over the edge
You could see them coming
You looked too small
In their big, black car
To be a threat to the men in power

I hid my yo-yo
In the garden
I can’t hide you
From the government
Oh, God, Daddy
I won’t forget

‘Cause every time it rains
You’re here in my head
Like the sun coming out
Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen
And I don’t know when
But just saying it could even make it happen

The sun’s coming out.
Your son’s coming out

One of the most fascinating songs by Kate Bush, but probably also one with the most cryptic lyrics. “Orgonon” refers to the hypothetical energy field proposed by the psychoanalysist Wilhelm Reich. Reich, after fleeing Germany and settling in the US, also constructed a so-called cloudbuster machine, which in this video is operated by the scientist, played here by Donald Southerland. Whereas most people interpret the lyrics of this song by Kate Bush very much along the biographie of Wilhelm Reich, I have a different interpretation.

Kate Bush was not unfamiliar with unpredictable changes of mood, or emotional ups and downs and periods of depression. These are frequently described by patients as “Dark Clouds”, since they arise suddenly and scarry like the clouds of a thunderstorm. “Cloudbuster” might therefore refer to a person (a friend or a therapist) who helps to chase away these clouds of depressions. Many viewers of the video further think that Kate Bush here simply “plays” the part of Peter, i.e. Wilhelm Reichs son. Strange for me to believe that Kate Bush should play a male part here. I think she represents a girl who is regularily plagued by depressive episodes, and who looks for help from an elder friend (i.e. Donald Southerland).

W H Reich ‘discovered’ Orgone energy, and made a machine which he claimed he could collect this energy, an orgone accumulator. It was – I believe – to do with the sale and marketing claims of this machine that he came to grief with the law. Orgonon was also the name given to a body of Aristotle’s works by his followers. So dreams of Orgonon can be understood as an alluision to this new form of energy which Reich claimed to have discovered. It could also be viewed as a reference to Reich’s banned opus.

Reich also he tried to measure the male orgasm and believed this was a type of energy present in all life forms which he called “orgone.”. He built cloudbusters which he belived could manipulate streams of orgone energy to produce rain. His 280 acre estate in Maine was called Orgonon. He was banned from orgone-therapy equipment across a state line and was jailed for 2 years when he failed to do so. He died in prison.

Is there anything in Reich’s work? As a student of physics I have to say I am highly dubious of orgon energy. There are plenty of forms of electromagnetic energy, many of which are used in medicine (from X rays, to radiotherapy, even to those wrist bands people wear to stop car sickness) there are sure to be many ways in which known forms of energy can have as yet unknown effetcs on the body. There seems to me to be no independent evidence of organon energy. It seems to have little explanatory power except in some accounts of the positive effect of Reich’s machine, which are perhaps better explained by the placebo effect.

But it is a great song and does not need to be seen as an appraisal of Reich’s work by Bush, but rather a study in daughter’s love for a father.

BMW Urban Safari edition

If a Persian Cat could choose a car, no doubt it would opt for the one with the blue-white chess-board logo. The Bemweh (Persian for BMW, as I recently learned here) is for some reason highly estimated in present Iran.

And this new, yet unreleased special edition of the Munich luxus car maker would most likely attract the persian cats attention.  We show here the wildlife approved Urban Safari edition of BMW.

BMW-UrbanSafari2 BMW-UrbanSafari1

It comes in camouflage design, has a tow-bar to mount a rhinoceros trailer to, but inside one can enjoy the usual high-end in-car entertainment system, so the driver can listen to Wagners Rheingold while driving to the Opera.

One day out of 32872 days

Woke up at 6:50
Prepared avocado-egg-salad, half of it eat on black bread, half I left for Marischa
Watched 15 minutes morning news, about the dreadful stupid fights between Ukrainian military and Russian separatist
Went out with Ivo for a 15 minutes morning walk, realized that it is pretty cold but sunny
Gave food to Ivo
Jumped on the bike heading for work, taking with me the damaged rear wheel of Marischas bike
Cycling through the North of Munich, across the Isar river and through the English Garden
At the junction of Leopoldstreet and Neuherbergstreet, meet Mr. Osenberg, head of our Research Centers financial control department. He is a really small, slim and non-typical sport shape man. But on his bike, he is like a racer, like a grease lightning. Three minutes after we both start at the green traffic light, he is already about 500 m in front of me. I calculate he is about 20km/h faster than me.

Arrive at the institue, and take a shower (poor Mr.Osenberg once told me that they don’t have a shower over there at the administrative department. I’m proud to feel privileged as a researcher in this instance.
At my desk I check my e-mail. Two students, one from the Netherlands and one from Bulgaria confirm their participation on my lecture series. A professor Martazavi from Tehran also wants to participate, but needs a letter from me to apply for a German visa.

Went to the cell culture to check the mesenchymal stem cell cultures. Three out of 10 from last weeks explantations are bacterial infected. Have to sterilise those and discard.
But the remaining 7 cultures are clean and grow well.

Yashodhara comes to the cell culture room to tell me that Life Technologies have problems to continue supplying us with Stem Cell approved serum.  I explain her to request from other suppliers ordinary bovine serum test samples, check them for growth potential on our cells, and just order a large badge of the best charge. As usual, Yasho expresses deep dissatisfaction, as if over there in her Indian home everything would be just perfect. Never had somebody in my group who is so unwilling to improvise or solve problems.

When I pass along the coffee room, I realize that Bahar has birthday today, and she is already arranging her cake.  I feel ashamed, it happened what I was afraid of: that I might forget the birthday of my most reliable, most pleasant and most witty technician. I try her really delicious (and hallal) cake, and tell her that the present will arrive after lunch only.

Back to my office, I close the door behind me and start to write to Fatemeh, my friend so far in Tehran. I send her back one of the pictures showing the Afgani girl, after I added the IPCT tags according to Mrs. Tieth from Ullstein. I know I could write endless letters to Fatemeh, but have to stop here and wait for the evening, because Costanca enters. Once again, she is very nervous and plagued with doubts about the deadline for her master-project. I tell her that she shall focus the presentation of next week on the novel findings in telomerase regulation in mesenchymal stem cells, but not on the problems with low protein concentration of her samples. I tell that with all these worries she reminds me of Sherly Bassie (when Bassie was 50 years younger, of course). She starts to smile a bit, and again asks me why I address her with the polite German “Sie”, rather than with the familial form “Du”. I tell her that with all others we communicate in English, and there is no difference between a formal and this privat form of addressing a person. But in German, I use instinctively the official polite form for colleagues much younger or students.
I promise to organize some of the much-sought-after Amicon protein filtration tubes from another institute. Indeed, Ines from the Pathology institute gives me her entire storage of 14 tubes, which should make Costanza happy for tne next few days, untill our order from Merck is delivered. Next problem with Costanzas experiments is the missing master-mix for the Eliza assay. I call Roche Incs customer service to explain them our problem with master mix shortage. They promise to send some extra tubes free of charge.

Back from phone, I check the status of my submitted manuscript at the editorials office website. It is still of “under review” status (since 4 weeks).

I do the first outline for the manuscript on osteosarcoma, telomere alterations and the Rb1 gene and PML protein status. While reading through the recent publication from Sanger Centers ICGC group and what they called as Kataechis mutation spectrum I suddenly understand that this looks very similar to the AID hypermutations in B-cell lymphoma. I go to Jan to tell him about this possibility. As usual, he has never heard about this molecular process, and me (a physicist) have to explain to him (a biologist) all the basics of this essential process of immune development. As usual, he seems completely drowned in this mass of genome data, but is unable to bringe some sense in. I tell him that I will talk to Jean-Marie, who is a specialist in somatic hypermutation and kicked out from the research center 4 years ago, to find a way to determine if the cytosin point mutations in osteosarcoma are from dysregulated AID somatic hypermutation. I doubt that Jan understands the relevance of this possibility. But the head of his research unit is of similar weak scientific vision.

It is almost lunch time, and I remember that I have to buy a birthday buket for Bahar and bring Marishas bike wheel to the repair shop. So I jump on the bike and drive over the field towards Euro-Industrial-Center, the last 5 min through the abandoned military camp, which is now the camp for the asylum seekers. The security guards are liberal today and allow me to drive through this by-pass-road. At the bike shop, I buy a new rear wheel and the service guy changes the gear set from the old to the new one. Great, seems to have worked out.
On the way back, I feel that the pneu on my own bike is flat: I must have perforated it while drove over a sharp stone at the asylum-serkers camp. Walk back to the bike-shop, to exchange the pneu. This costs me another 20 min and my hands look dirty as pig. But finally, I can drive back to the institut. Stoping over at the the flowers shop, I find a beautiful buket of long, red-yellow roses.

Back to the instute, I can finally congratulate Bahar, and she is honestly amazed by the buket. I understand that it is a stupid stereotype that muslims don’t acknowledge flowers. Muslim or not, Bahar is really happy about the roses, and she askes all other peoples in the lab who has ever been given such flowers from the boss (I complain with her again about her addressing me her boss). I know that at the age of 32, Bahar is not completely free of worries regarding age. I tell that know, 12 years after she started working with me, she still looks the same, and this is a big compliment for her, considering that she got 2 kids meanwhile. And she says that indeed she still feels like an18 years old, but that she also  never believed that I am 20 years her senior, in particular after we went recently to a couple of rock-concerts together. So we are a good team at work, we know how much we can trust each other and although so different educational and cultural background (muslim versus bloody atheist), we usually stick together like “tar and sulphur”. The only thing I disliked was that 8 years ago she stoped wearing a hijab.
So after another piece of her birthday cake, and with the buket, I told her to take the afternoon off to celebrate with her family.

The afternoon I went back to work on tne manuscript on the osteosarcoma hypermutation and our genome profiling. I found an older paper that claimed that osteosarcomas mutational spectrum indeed resembles somatic hypermutation, but for some unclear reason they suspect the gene APOBEC to be the underlying cause, rather than my hypothesis favoring AID. But AID would be more logical, since it is a DNA editing enzyme, rather than the RNA editing activity of APOBEC. But APOBEC is ubiqiously expressed in many tissues, whereas AID is restricted to lymphoid immune cells. But it could be that AID becomes ectopically expressed in the process of osteoblast transformation, and hence exerts its DNA editing activity to the entire genome, causing wide-spread hypermutation.

Suddenly Anna from Michas iPS stem cell group calls and says that tomorrow she will have differentiated cells from her ES and iPS models to give us for assaying telomerase activity. I tell Costanza that next day she should expect additional cell samples for her experiments. As expected, she wrinkles her brows showing her unease with this extra work.

At 4:30 p.m. I decide I had enough fullfilled my professional duties, and now want to go to the cinema to watch “Her”, a movie by Spike Jonze, featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a young man who falls in love with a computer OS. Since it is a love which mainly manifests itself as dialogues by computer chat, I thought it could explain a bit why I feel so much confidence with Fatemeh. But the movie is a sad story, and Theodore, the main character of the movie, is a poor victim of his fears and LA typical undecisiveness in terms of partnerships. So Samantha, the computer OS who he falls in love with, is programmed such that it behaves as the ideal girl of his dreams. So this virtual relationship is rediculous, whereas my attraction to Fatemeh is to a very real person, and objectively, we are very different, she a very creative artist, religious, and very open and positive about meeting and learning about new people every other day. Me, scientist, atheist or pantheist, and readily bored or pissed off as soon as I meet stereotypic people. But anyhow, there is a deep emitional and spiritual link between the two of us, and nothing in the world is currently so important for me as Fatemehs opinion about me. Since I lack any religious higher instance to judge my deeds and my person, I have choosen Fatemeh, whos words I rely so much.
The movie “Her” has nothing of this mutual trust. In the movie, Theodore simply needs a projection for his unfulfilled phantasies, but he does not really expects Samantha to challenge his concept of life.

After the movie is over, I drop in at Lehmkuhls bookstore to buy Wäis Kiani’s “Behind the Moon”, to give it to Nineliah for Eastern. On the way along the University Hospital I meet Birgit Luber, to hand her over the exam protocol and review of Sebastians master project. We chat a bit, and I remember the box of white chocolate pralines in my suit-case. And she is suprised to receive an Eastern present from me. But it feels nice to make unexpected gifts.

Arriving home, I realized that Ljowas has a friend visiting him at school holidays, and they are in his room, with the sun blinds completely turned down, and all lights inside switched on. This pisses me off, and I sneak silently into the house and down to the basement to pull the fuse to Ljowas room. After the two sit for a few seconds incomplete darkness, Ljowas comes down to check the fuse box in the basement. This is a good chance for me to scare him off, explain again my dissatisfaction with turning on the ekectric lights at daytime. Ljova says he met a mouse in his room. What has this to do with leaving on the electric light throughout the day?

Rest of the evening is as usuall: watching some international TV news, laughing about the ridiculous stupid Western comments and helpless attitudes of NATO officials with Marisha, having some simple sandwiches for dinner and going out for a walk with Ivo.

I hope that tonight the sky will be clear enough to make a photo of the full moon, as I wanted to send to Fatemeh.
It was a good day, with some ups and some downs, but the best moments where when I wrote the e-mail to Fatemeh. Maybe she has answered already.

Summary: It took me more than 3 hours to write this 4 page summary of today, what I did over an period of about 14 hours. It is nothing I will do on a regular base: 3 hours to write down what happend within 14 hours: thats not very efficient.