Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a Zoo in Here- and there!

While Nick gets to tour Tasmanian National Park, I’ve concluded that I live in the Canadian Zoo. I, too, have had food taken from me against my will. I was sipping coffee in an empty lounge in my dorm building, with my laptop and a grocery bag that contained laundry detergent and apples. I suddenly had to use the restroom, so I took with me the laptop (my life in a white notebook) and the detergent (it’s a college dorm, and I’m not an idiot). I thought the lukewarm, black coffee and $3 bag of apples could withstand my brief departure, but brace yourself. I returned two minutes later to find a girl walking happily out of the lounge, carrying a bag of apples in one hand and enjoying a delicious red apple in the other. When I confronted her, she turned the color of the apple claimed to be taking the misplaced goods to the “lost and found.” Do you eat the stuff you take to the lost and found? It must be a Canadian thing. I thought life in a college dorm would be quiet during the summer, but I could not have been more wrong. Not only is this a dorm, but it is also a conference center with restaurants, auditoriums, and a music hall. Groups from around the world come to Canada for the most random reasons. In my first week, there was an International Lifeguards Conference in my building. The Ireland team was so bored one night that they had a dance contest on the pool table! It was an interesting sight, for the middle of Canada. Last week, I was walking to lab early one morning and was taken over by the sound of bagpipes coming from a conference room. It turns out my building is also home to a summer bag piping camp for youths.

Lab is going well. I’ve sequenced the important sections of all 4 of the plasmids that I’m working with, but getting the yeast to overexpress the kinase genes on the plasmids has been a challenge. They are a rather moody organism to work with, either overgrowing or dying every time we try to induce expression. My favorite part of my job is using the confocal microscope to see the fluorescent-tagged organelles in the dividing cells. One of my samples got contaminated with bacteria, but it made for an interesting viewing. I got to view live phagocytosis of a yeast cell by the bacterium! It would have been a Kodak moment, but the anonymous bacterium was not fluorescent tagged, thus could not be imaged.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Naked old guys and more

So the past two weeks have been pretty uneventful.  That's not to say that I haven't done a lot or had fun, just not much really exciting or out of the ordinary.  It's hard to believe I've been here almost four weeks.  Barcelona is still wonderful.  I never know what will be around the next corner.  For example, on Sunday I went out to a street cafe to have some tapas while working on my SIRE grant application (shameless brown nosing).  I look up from my typing to see a naked older man walking down the street.  He wasn't streaking like a dumb Amercian, he was just out for a stroll smoking a cigarette.   I was confused at first and I stared for several
seconds trying to figure out if he was just in a flesh colored suit, but alas, no.  I mentioned it to my co-workers and they told me he used to be out all the time until he got arrested after some complaints. I guess he got paroled.

Lab is going quite well, albeit my progress seems to be quite slow.  Down time is quite rare as there always seems to be something to do.  My photochemical reaction is going well.  The first time it took a week for results, but by adding an oxidant, we've cut that time in half.  The problem is the time it takes to make the substrate.  For example, to get the asymmetric substrate for the reaction takes 30 days, because the chiral PKR takes 20-25 days itself.  I may be able to develop some methodology for a future student to work on, but there is no way for me to finish this project. The coolest part is that my compounds are UV active. Holy Fluorescing flasks!
I guess now it's two weekends ago I went to Montserrat.  It's a mountain with a medieval monastery about halfway up.  It is rumored that St. John (I think) hid in a cave on the mountain after the death of Jesus.  However, my favorite factoid about the mountain is that rosemary grows wild and there are places where there is so much you can smell it.  After an hour train ride out of the city, I took a cable car to the monastery.  It's a really nice, though small area.  Only the basilica of the monastery is open to the public, so I looked around and hung out to hear the boy's choir, which sings Ave Maria every day at 1pm.  However, they took that day off.  I walked outside and bought some honey and cheese from a little market comparable to the Emory sustainable overpriced market (I don't think that's the exact name, but you get the picture).  I then set off on a hike that kicked my butt.  I had forgotten how out of shape I am.  However, the views of the countryside were spectacular.  I had a picnic and came back down.  I wanted to go up the other side, and thank goodness there was a tram. After my fill of views and pictures I came back to Barcelona.
As if that wasn't enough for one day, I went out to a music festival with some friends from lab.  I thought it was going to be alt rock, but turned out to be anarchist punk rock.  Definately an interesting experience.  I didn't understand any of the music because it was all in Catalan (they favor independence).  My friend pointed out to me that if we had been there only 30 years ago, during the Franco dictatorship, we would have all be arrested and jailed, possibly disappeared.  However, since I'm American, he told me I probably would have just been deported.  I guess it has its advantages from time to time.

This week is going to be a lot of fun.  Tonight begins San Juan.  Its a summer solstice festival in memory of John the Baptist.  It's traditional to go for a swim in the ocean to wash away one's sins and for couples to jump over bonfires seven times to make their love last.  I think the whole bonfire thing sounds a little extreme considering that any festival in Spain is accompanied by copious amount of adult beverages.  In addition to random bonfires throughout the city there are also fireworks shows and everyone sets off firecrackers and bottle rockets.  The party lasts all night and it is traditional to watch the sunrise from the beach.  Sounds like my kind of party.  The actual holiday is tomorrow, kind of like New Year's day is designed for recovery for New Year's Eve.

Once I've recovered, I head Thursday to London for a long weekend for Natalie.  I think we're going out to Oxford on Friday so I can have lunch at my favorite pub from my study abroad.  The weekend will be spent wondering around London. I'm so excited! 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wallabees... Really Cool Animals

Hey guys, I went to a national park on Tuesday. Boy was it an adventure… thought I was not going to make it out alive. I definitely did things I would never have done if I were in the US. So my amazing day began on top of Mount Wellington… boy was that a spectacular view. After going up the mountain for a spectacular view, I began my road trip for 4 hours to the Tasmanian National Park…. On the way there… no exaggeration, we (well not me because I refuse to drive here) killed about 4 possums (not opossums they are different here). Apparently they are a nuisance to people here so they take pride in killing them any chance they get… They look a lot like supersized squirrels. When I got to the park we did a ten mile hike through the park, total. However, what we forgot while hiking was that the sun here sets at like 3:30 which is really, really weird… at least for me. So on our way back night fell. We had no flash light or anything. Now we had a ten 5 mile hike back in the dark. In TAZI, night time is when all the deadly creatures come out. Snakes, blood drinking spiders, kangaroos… Now the first thing that cross my mind was, were there any signs that said DANGER do no walk at night. Scared shitless, we began our hike back… being the American that I am, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone to see if we could get some assistance back… When I looked down at my phone, to my astonishment there is no service. Now mind you, you might say that that was dumb of me but it was the best thing I could have done… At that point it had crossed none of our minds to use our cell phone as a source of light but boy where they thanking me for being the great American I am for being so dependent on my cell phone. Anyway after fighting off a few deadly snakes and dingoes; along with escaping the vicious kick of a kangaroo, we made it out alive and I left with a new name… Nick Dundee. Boy was that a day.
On a better note, wallabies are nice animals… they come up to you and don’t attack you. They however are thieves. They only come to you for food and if you don’t give it to them they jump and try to snatch it out of your hand. I just ended up giving it my food… I don’t think I was suppose to do that but oh well.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Commenting Blog

Since the "comment" function on my browser doesn't like to cooperate with me, and to show the "altruistic spirit of Canada," I have dedicated this blog to talking to you guys (and because I miss you all, too!) Alex, I have had my share of Idiot Days in the past month, as well. I even broke glass twice in one day. I'm sure your Spanish will be superb in no time. What better place to learn Spanish than where you are right now? Mac, tell me more about the animals you found in Cairns! And stop complaining about 65˚. Nick, is it cold in TAZI? It is interesting that nobody goes on the road after 11. Here, the sun is just starting to set at 11. I should get back to work now, bye!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ONLY in Canada

Hey Guys,
I am also sorry for not posting in a long time. Nick, that is quite funny that you met a Jamacian all the way down in Tasmania! Things in the lab are really taking off! I've already repeated a phosphorylation experiment twice, which indicated that our protein of interest in the cell signaling pathway DOES get phosporylated by SOMETHING. But what?? I've overexpressed the suspected kinases, including both a negative and positive control. The only problem was that the blank, negative control showed more change than the samples that had the overexpressed kinase!! The positive control showed nothing due to an extremely problematic air bubble:( So now I'm thinking, could the kinase have some sort of inhibiting control or were mislabeled tubes the culprit? I will not know until I finish overexpressing the kinases again. The gel that shows all will be ready for transfer in an hour--wish me luck!
Outside of the lab, it is FINALLY spring time here! It's Canada, so I don't have too many exotic, crazy stories to share like the rest of you. But life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to what happens. To be honest, that 1st 10% of getting placed in Canada was a pretty big upset, I'm not going to lie. However, Im doing the most I can to make the most I can out of the other 90%.
I visited the West Edmonton Mall last weekend. I hate malls, I'm not a shopper. But this place was something else & totally not like other things you find in Canada. They have this giant, indoor waterpark complete with a wave-action pool, tiki-bar, & water slides. (the slide I ended up trying was more like a vertical chute, but whatever) It was strange, running through a water park in the middle of a shopping mall. It was kind of like being in a snowglobe. People on the 2nd floor shops can look down & see all these little people enjoying a mini-paradise, in a mall. ONLY in Canada! More of this 90% later. Live it up, guys!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I am Alive

Hello guys sorry for not posting in such a long time… I have been really busy in lab and when I am home. Currently in my lab we are having trouble with the flow cytometer so instead of working on my experiment that requires the use of the flow cytometer… I am performing trial runs to try and optimise the flow cytometer’s results. That has been a real pain being that we have been trying to get accurate results from it for the past 2 weeks. It seems as though what we are trying to use it for is a bit more complex than what it can handle. I will be getting my new result soon and hopefully I can start working on what I was originally suppose to do.
I have been studying for my MCAT as usual but I would not say that I have been looked away in my room doing that all the time. I have not been any were spectacular as of yet because I am saving all my trips for closer to the end… Ryan and I are planning to get together very soon to do some fun things. Side note! I did how ever get the worst haircut I have ever gotten in my life… For lack of a better description… I look like I am on Chemotherapy. It is all-good though… It is only hair; it will grow back.
To be honest Tazi, as they call it is a very quite unique place… it reminds me of one big retirement home lol. A lot of elderly people and college students. Everything closes early and no one is on the road after 11… I like it though the serenity gives me time to reflect. It kinda reminds me of Oxford… for those of you who knows what that is like. But I promise… my post will get more exciting as I make my way over to Sydney… Not the ass of Australia as they call TAZI. (That is the running joke here… I nearly died laughing when I first heard it). Oh I almost forgot… I met a Jamaican in my lab yesterday… what are the odds of that… he is from Korea. How this happen will be part of my next post.

The research is taking away from my experience

Spain is still amazing and I'm finally acclimated to being in a much different culture.  I have to admit it was very hard for the first week, but now I'm having a great time.  I'm eating at 9 or 10 at night and taking an afternoon siesta.  I'm not sleeping, but do go home for a little break or shopping or something.  My Spanish is slowly improving.  Everyone tells me it's good, but I can't see it.  I usually sit around blankly while anyone is talking around me.
Lab is going well, thought I never seem to leave.  I have run several reactions, and just started my critical transformation last night, which runs for three days.  Since my graduate student doesn't want me to do anything else until we make sure that the photochemistry works, I'm going to try to ask for tomorrow off.  I have to say my favorite part of the lab is the auto column machine.  This device takes what had been a 3 hour hell into a 30 minute process.  It has a UV detector and only collects solvent with compound in it.  When you are done, you print out a list of what compounds are in what tubes.  Wonderful invention.  I'm stealing it.  
Yesterday was "Alex is an idiot day." That's an annual event that occurs shortly after I join a new lab where I make everyone think that I'm a moron and spend the next month trying to disprove that.  Within ten minutes, I broke a flask with an advanced intermediate (luckily I was able to save it) and made a nitrogen ballon explode.  Also, I showed a general inability to use a balance.  I'm pretty sure it's supposed to weigh more when full than empty.  However, I did manage to keep the palladium on carbon from burning, which seemed to be the only right thing I did.
I had a great weekend.  I went out Friday night with some people from lab and went to several different bars.  Until then I had only gone to English pubs.  Saturday night was spent with the "Jew Safari" as Yoni calls it.  I had dinner with the Sefardic Study aboard program and then went out to a pub with Yoni.  As Ryan noted, it is always great to see someone you know while overseas.  Sunday afternoon was spent at the beach with my roommates.  We went an hour north of the city.  The view was great and the beach was nice too.  I'm planning to be a tourist this weekend and thinking about some diving or maybe a day trip to Montserrat (not the island).  It is a monastery on top of a mountain that is supposed to have great hiking.  I have to go buy a card reader because I forgot my camera cord, but be looking for pictures to be forthcoming as well.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Going North never felt so Hot…

So after 2.5 weeks of hard labor in my lab, I decided to take a little vacation while on vacation. As an avid diver, I could not miss the opportunity to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef, so I booked a flight for a 3 day weekend in Cairns, Queensland. The diving was excellent, the food amazing, the weather perfect. After my day of diving, I also visited the Cairns zoo and got to wonder around with some wonderful wallabies. The last day of my trip there, I went on a rainforest tour which, for me, was a photographer’s paradise. I went quite trigger-happy with my camera shooting everyone and everything in sight. Nothing was spared. I am back in Sydney now, and even though the average high here is 65 instead of 85 degrees, I guess I’ll have to make do. Otherwise, everything in lab is going well, and I am making progress on my project. Hope everyone is doing well at home.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Who thought Spain could be boring sometimes

The weekend was pretty slow.  I went downtown several times to La Rambla, almost getting pickpocketed once.  I looked for apartments and found one that I like.  It's on a main subway line and I thought it was a quiet place until someone started clapping, screaming, and barking like a dog at 6:45 this morning.  My roommates are nice but speak no English.  I figured out how to get the TV to be in English for US shows which made it somewhat better.  On Saturday, I had dinner at Dr. Riera's house which was quite fun.  Today is my first real day of work since yesterday was a holiday.  That's about it.