05:45 am

Actually, I was awake at 05:43 am because I did not want to hear the sound of my alarm clock. Half asleep, I got to the lagoon at the UCSB and started looking for a larger group of people who were going to row at 06:15 am (!) - there are three slots on Monday to Thursday and you can pick one each day. The 06:15 am one exists on all days... including Friday (no other slots) - and it's absolutely worth coming:

Two of the four sessions are at the lagoon, the other two ones on rowing machines in the gym. And the Friday one is at the UCSB stadium (Harder stadium).

When our names were registered, I was immediately asked, if I was "the graduate student" - most new rowers are undergraduates. It seems to be the same for the swimming team. I didn't care too much because we were all stuck in the same boat when an oar was caught in algae, some huge brown-green mesh. That really made us slow... But it's a wonderful feeling to be on the water and moving by your own force - recommendable!

There's also a lot of tradition in rowing (it's the oldest sport which one university against another competed): The winning team gets the shirts of the losing one (only concerning men ;-)). And the winner team's coxswain is thrown into the water... I'm too tall for a coxswain ;-)



Los Angeles. The city of the angels.

After speaking to quite a few people about LA, my opinion about the city could only become better. LA is full, not European, has got several centers and the traffic takes a life time.

Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.

BUT arriving in LA from the right direction gives a wonderful view on the surrounding mountains and the Pacific. If you get a chance to fly into LAX, LA's airport, you'd be fascinated (especially at night; "On My Way to LA"). Driving in LA is  not too easy, indeed, and it takes a lot of time to pass through the city. To be honest, I've just been in Santa Monica for a day in a rather closed room, but in the evening we went to some restaurant which was nice.

However, there are people supporting walking in LA, so that the city center there might become an actual downtown once. Just google and you'll find many blogs. Beside the downtown area there's still an amazing the breath-taking Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry.

Lemon Fest

... denn sauer macht ja lustig.

Lemons are not only a fruit, they are a life style, I'm sure. Therefore, Goleta, the town next to the UCSB, celebrated on Sunday lemon bear, lemon pie, lemon ice cream, lemon xyz. Overall it was not as lemon-ish as I expected it to be because there were still many bank, club or therapeutic something with help for everything (who knows if they talked to the bear people that everybody turns slightly yellow after the bear to accelerate the business with the anti-yellow-therapy ;-)).

 Lemon fest in Goleta.

The festival was mainly made for families and children, so everybody played soccer or conquered the bouncing castle. Especially soccer seems to be a huge deal around here. I saw a lot more people kicking a ball than carrying it or playing baseball. However, baseball caps are still a necessary fashion item ;-)


sixty-five percent

Our first class in "Computational Systems Biology" was amazing and motivating to join the course. We also talked about the reliability of papers and there is a good article called

"Believe it or not: how much can we rely on published data on potential drug targets?" [Link]

which investigates the reproducibility of some drug models and surveys. And for example, 43 out of 66 data sets were inconsistent!

Another survey shows, that three different, trained individuals assign different states in the cell cycle to a picture strip of a dividing cell. Okay, indeed, they're different people, so that's absolutely fine, but even one person diverges from its own former choice by about 4% when they decide about the cell cycles again. Here's the link.

What's the point? A solution as suggested in the paper I just outlined is the simulation and "calculation" of the points when the cell cycle begins the next "step". Therefore, an objective criterion is necessary - and that's one of the things we will take care of in "Computational Systems Biology". In general, it's quite useful to have a model of your experiment: You don't have to carry out everything, so you save resources, money, time, ... and you could even verify your theory, model a situations you can't build in the lab etc.
Thus, only trust the survey you falsified yourself!


First Day of Classes

School has started yesterday. Somehow, it's a bit confusing to say school because that makes me think of my elementary or high school, but not of university courses. However, it's used here and the rooms we've got lectures in look sometimes a bit like a class room as well ;-)

 Class/Lecture room for one of my courses.

There are indeed huge lecture halls for undergraduate courses which are sometimes taught to up to 900 persons. One of my classes is considered as "large" because 25 persons attend it :-)

Some rooms have "normal" chairs and desks, but in quite a few the table you write on is directly connected to the chair. As a consequence, you can't go to a place and sit down on the left or on the right chair, you have to choose for example the any of the chairs to the left, because the other ones are blocked by the chair's connection to the table.

I tried repeatedly to get checkered (kariertes) paper for normal class room use (that is very common in Germany), and I was not successful in three out of three stores. Finally, I found out, that people even in physical sciences either use plain or lined paper... anything else does actually not exist. (Thus, I'll adapt to the culture and give up my climate-saving, checkered, brown recycling paper .)



We drove shopping with open car windows, some average music on the radio and the sunset going down :-) that was amazing and the Californian feeling of life!

Okay, it was just pretty cool and I felt like I am in one of those films or books about California, living freedom. We went to get some decoration for our apartment and were successful.

But grocery shopping is far not as easy as buying a painting. Vegetables and fruit work out absolutely perfect, but anything you can add intentionally sugar to, is dangerous. My favorite example is yogurt: Innocently, I bought some fruit yogurt and was slightly surprised, that it was sweeter than I expected and the cause was (what else?!) additional sugar.
Maybe that's nowadays normal for yogurt.

But not for bread! The first time I bought bagels I was lucky, but afterwards... I started reading very closely what their ingredients are. I do the same with yogurt which takes me about 5 minutes in front of the shelf to find out, which yogurt hits the price-ingredient-optimum. The same with bread. Last time I found sour bread which seems to be the German Sauerteigbrot (... I hope ;-)).

But before that... I bought the cheapest one without sugar and it was full of caraway - nooo!!


What I actually do all the time

I'm glad I can report all those nice bike rides, downtown and beach trips, but that's not what I have been mainly up to during the last days or even weeks: I work on sea urchins and their embryonic cell division at the very first stages (from one cell to two cells). Indeed, my project is not really about sea urchins; they are only the cell model to gain experimental data and we can look at other cells with the same techniques.

Tripneustes ventricosus (West Indian Sea Egg-top) and Echinometra viridis (Reef Urchin - bottom).jpg 
Sea urchin (wikipedia), but it's not exactly the species we work on.

However, sea urchins have got many advantages compared to other cells: The fertilization of eggs is easy to initialize and the first division of the main cell happen after about 1.5 h and not after about 22-40 h which is the time for a human embryo to divide once. Furthermore, you gain a high amount of eggs and sperm from one animal, so that you can observe many embryos within one sample from two sea urchins.

There are easy to handle and to grow. The necessary paperwork due to the "animal experiment" is also minimal, since sea urchins are not vertebrates (Wirbeltiere). Basically, they could be thrown away after fertilization...

Sea urchins are also easy to manipulate on a cellular and molecular level. We keep the sea urchin embryos in a gel directly after fertilization so we can observe their behavior under growth. Finally, we collect data about the actin network to find out, which forces act during the cell division.
It's all about networking ;-)


Beach and Bike Tour

The UCSB campus is actually about 12 miles away from Santa Barbara downtown and is located next to a smaller town or district called "Goleta" (that's where I go grocery shopping). There's a bus which makes the 12 miles in about 20 minutes - but you can also go by bike which takes you about... well, a bit more time ;)

 Southern end of campus, see more.

Today we rode to downtown SB and along the beach which is a very recommendable tour. In total, I think I spent about 3.5 hours on my bike and we went 27 miles (which is about 43 km!). That is not too fast, indeed, but it was fun and we took some photos. And exactly those ones plus some from the southern campus side you can see here.


Your better half

Once upon a time I thought "your better half" is somebody like your partner, spouse or whoever. But nowadays I think it became questionable if it's not your smartphone (or your facebook profile?!). There seem to be quite a few parallels: You hang out with the person a lot (but the smart phone seems to be there all the time as well), you interact, you get to know other people (partner's friends / new friends on fb ...). And the smart phone calender plans your day (of course it's saved online), but it's your door to the world.

Facebook group for all new graduate students at the UCSB.

But what's really important and different to Germany is the organizational part on facebook. Our year has a facebook group to organize hiking and biking trips; all new graduate students are registered in one group and "official" announcements are posted there (e. g. campus tour tomorrow with the head of graduate studies). Of course, this exemplary event is not compulsory at all, but without facebook I would not have known about it.
The dancing group has got a facebook page, my sponsor in Germany, the Institute of International Education, George Orwell, everybody! To be honest, it's unbelievable pragmatic because otherwise I would receive a lot of mails...

Luckily I got a new smart phone which works properly in the US and a "cheap" prepaid plan or 30$/month. I finally exist in the US.
I smart phone, therefore I am.



During our orientation week all the teaching assistants (TAs) received a brief training of how to teach. Part of this workshop was the presentation of a short, simple mechanics problem. My problem was about a super-fast car which had a certain speed and was supposed to stop in a very small distance. Then, calculate the deceleration.

Paper in the US is broader and shorer; the holes are also pinched differently. To fit both formats into one folder, I developed the grand unified pinching pattern (GUPP) as above.

I presented my ideas on the board (everybody had seven minutes) and afterwards I gave a brief discussion if the solution was "sensible", i.e., in the expected order of magnitude. (Sometimes it happens, that you get a negative mass or the like - then you know at least, that something in your calculation must be wrong.)

So I talked freely of how many kilogramms would weigh so and so many Newton which would result in the same force as it was necessary to stop the car. At the feedback session there were no actual complaints despite the comment, that I could imperial units (pounds, miles, inches...) for the illustration ;-)

But I have got absolutely no intuition for those units! I don't see a building and think, oooh, that's about 30 feet! Nor do I have any idea, how fast 25 miles/hour are. It's probably worst concerning the weather: Now it's 80°F and I'd think, that's hot, because Celsianer live on a different scale.

When I met other international students, they agreed that Celsius is comfortable for intuition and seen the temperature relative to the melting and boiling point of water. But the US-American guys argue that they don't need decimal places for Fahrenheit, which makes it easier (aha ;-) ). Anyway, in Santa Barbara one does not really have to care about the temperature because it's nearly the same all over the year ;-) And even if, I'd plead for Kelvin!

Another problem is the paper format. The average paper you write on is a bit broader and shorter than its European brother; there are also three holes per paper and not four. So you need an US-American hole pincher. And have your old notes pinched twice (as above) to get them into an American folder...



Once I was told that I should shout "Fire!!!" if I want to get people's attention - because everybody would be so excited that they'd come round to see what an interesting thing goes on. We were supposed to do this in a case of emergency, when you usually yell "Help!", but that might not work because it's "boring".

The fire everyone of us extinguished.

But on Monday we got safety training for the campus here which consists of a lecture about chemicals and general hazards and - of the actual use of a fire extinguisher. Everybody had to try it. And to be honest, the first contact with this actual heavy monster is scary, but the final extinction is fun. We had a trough with lighted gas and "just for fun" our instructor but some gas around it as well.

There are two famous kinds of fire extinguishers, one with chalk (calcium carbonate) and one with carbon dioxide. Because the chalk one leaves a mess (the powder is everywhere...) we were trained with carbon dioxide one. It feels like a small explosion if you pull the handle and the compressed, cooled gas comes out!

All the training has been increased after a horrible accident at the UCLA in 2001, when a student died after a few weeks in hospital due to the burns she got during a combustion in a chemistry lab. There are many articles on the Internet about it, e.g. here.


Transition state

A bunch of seven grad Physics students went to the Granada theater in SB downtown today to hear Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition", parts of a piano concert by Tschaikovsky and an overture by Glinka. It was wonderful! Not only the orchestra, the pianist and the conductor were amazing, the building is also worth seeing. From the outside it looks a bit different to the rest of the main street in SB, but once you've entered you think you're in a 23-stars hotel ... or something like this.

 Granada Theater in SB. There are more Pictures here.

What's new? There was a cinema like show for the "Pictures in an Exhibition": A projector showed short comic strips on a very broad screen. I think that was absolutely not necessary, but some sketches were funny, indeed. I was just not sure if I had been in a concert or in a cinema... (There just had to be some US-American touch ;-) )

The tickets for 16 US$ were affordable - but that does not include the exceptional change in our seats because some rows were just not taken. So we got placing which would have costed about 40 US$ ;-) In October Lang Lang is going to come and later on there's something form Shakespeare.
A recommendation to everyone!



"Yeah, kind of..."

"Guten Tag, wie geht's?"

"Fine, und Ihnen?"

"Sehr gut, danke!"

"Where did you learn German? That's amazing!"

Rowing at the UCSB.
And so on... All teaching assistants (TA, ähnlich zu den Tutoren in Deutschland) have to take an English Language examination to be employed. All physics students who are going to be a TA had to explain the Coriolis force within 5-7 minutes.

I took the examination as well and the examining professor knew that I was from Germany and said "endlich..." when I entered the room for the exam. There was another professor from the English department who grew up in Germany, so we chatted a bit in German before starting the actual exam. And afterwards we talked about rowing ;-) I just really hope I passed!

So far, I have not met many German people. There are also two post-docs at the Mechanical Engineering faculty I ran into, but that's basically it.

It's just a yellow lemon-tree

"I'm sitting here in the boring room
It's just another rainy Sunday afternoon..."

Well, that's all not true, but when I saw an actual, grown, real, 3D-HD lemon-tree today I just had to think of one of the most famous earworm songs. We did not only watch lemon trees on farms as well as "wild", but also orange trees and many avocado trees. I couldn't believe that all those tourist guides for California were just right.


Small changes

All the basic things happening in the US seem to be very similar to Europe, e. g. people prefer cars for distances longer than 2 km ;-), there is a sidewalk and a separate way for bicycles and so on. But there are some tiny details which are different, of course.

Talking about water: The sunset at the University's South end. For more Pictures go to "Impressions" in the upper selection bar.

For example, if you (as an innocent pedestrian) are waiting at the traffic lights you push a button (as in Europe), but when the lights turn white (instead of green) you hear a very loud sound for a short time and then the traffic lights start a count down, so you won't think about running across the street when the last seconds for the pedestrians begin. Actually, this system is very useful, because the light switch not directly to red, but stay "green" or "white" or whatever for a short time - and you know the time you need.

Then there's the shower. It works! But there's no tube. The greatest possible interaction with the way the water takes is the vertical alignment of the shower head which is fixed to the wall; that's exactly one degree of freedom, up and down.

That's not the only thing with water. Probably a small children might name three things necessary for life: food, water and a water filter. The water around here (and as far as I know in the entire US) has very different sodium and chlorine concentrations and it's nearly undrinkable if you don't filter it. So let's take a Swiss knife and a water filter if you ever think about stranding on a lonely US-island ;-)



When I arrived in our apartment one of the first things I learned, is that trash goes down a black hole and is never seen again and - where the spray against bugs is deposited. It's not about kind flies or old spiders, it's because of the ants. And have a guess what they're looking for. I absolutely understand if somebody needs an apple, chocolate or a hug, but they are were search for water and are not a bit interested in any cookies or chocolate I have in my room.

Lake Cachuma as one of Santa Barbara's water reservoirs (wikipedia).

In understood that they don't need the luxury products like chocolate from the world I live in, but the very basic necessities of life. Unfortunately, I left a sponge which was not wrung out in our kitchen sink and one hour later I had to kill about 200 ants (of course I felt there were at least 1000!) :( - and I'm a vegetarian.

In general, water is some kind of a problem over here. In every hotel there are small signs telling you to be careful with water. The Lake Cachuma and Bradbury Dam are an example for the water sources of Santa Barbara; both are about 25 miles away. Water from the State Water Project is even up to about 100 miles away. Due to the drought a desalination plant is going to be built which is supposed to cover about 30% of the water usage.

And Santa Barbara still has "only" 92 000 residents. Just think of LA with about 11.8 million people!

However, there's still enough water for the pool at the UCSB. I've been there today and I love water :-)


First impressions

Just briefly: I went to the beach at directly at campus yesterday evening and it was amazing! It's so beautiful. Have a look.


Perfect is an understatement

During my last few days in Germany it was unbelievable hot in Göttingen. Do you know this feeling when you are really grateful when you drink water after moving in the heat?

And then...

... I thought that the place where I was going to could be exactly like this honey-air!

Again San Clemente Villages - this time a self-taken photo.

And then...

... I arrived in paradise! The temperature here in Santa Barbara is perfect. We'd got about 22°C today and the sun was shining, just interrupted by some small decorating clouds. They seem to try to make the photo you take look a little bit more realistic.

 Arriving at the airport. Santa Barbara seems to consist of palms, water and sun.

Mmh, maybe my over-excited opinion can be explained by today's events: Everything worked well. I checked into the Housing and met my very nice room mate. I got my access card (Studentenausweis, which is able to do everything, maybe even spread peanut butter on your bread ;-) ) and met some Physics class mates. Our entire year is organized on facebook, of course.

Compared to other cities, the university here and Santa Barbara has got a well established and good working bus system. With them I got my bedding and everything sorted. The washing machines are paid with Credit Card (how else?!) and don't turn the clothes along a horizontal axis, but along a vertical one.

During midday I took a brief, unintended walk, because the bus stops are not really announced. So I'd got about a mile fun carrying a bedding and food - I think I'll do my intended exercise tomorrow ;-)


German Housing

The undergraduate and graduate housing in Germany is very different. Actually, there is no difference for Bachelor's and Master's students, but PhD students are not allowed to live in the students' apartments. The apartments are subsidized, so I'd estimate that one room costs between 200-400 US$ per month. I heard that this is a bit different in the US (about 1000 US$ at the Georgia Tech and approximately the same amount for a room in Santa Barbara when you've got one flatmate).

Path between the buildings of the students' housing.

The provided items are very similar, but in the US seems common that the rooms are furnished and that a small living room is included in the flats. In Germany you can choose between flats for a single person, places in a living community with up to twelve people. Nearly all facilities are available with or without furniture. You can be sure that you get your own room at any way - I heard that there are up to three or more people in one room in undergraduate apartments in the US.

The time during which you are allowed to live in the subsidized apartments is limited to four years in Göttingen. Now I've live there for three years and I only can recommend that you make an "Antrag auf Wiederaufnahme" (application for re-admission). With this application I get a new single apartment in October 2016 :-) (without any annoying apartment-hunting!)