The "super easy" visa renewal via post

Think twice about sending your visa documents via post services, seriously! I wanted to renew my visa as it expires in June and I would like to stay in the US until the beginning of October. The post did a good job on delivering my documents on time, but I got an e-mail from the embassy that one of the very important documents (the DS2019) was missing! Yet, I am 200% sure I submitted it. Thus, nobody knows what happened, but the document is necessary to issue a new visa.

After half a heart attack, I called several people in the US if they could send the document again - it has several signatures of US people and it needs my signature as well. Fortunately, everything might work out, i.e. I get the document on time, send it to the embassy, they issue my visa and ship it home. Indeed, my flight is booked in about two weeks and I just cross my fingers that it's all working out.

BUT I learned that even if you could apply for a new visa via post and don't have to travel to an embassy, you still might want to do it to make sure you have control over all your docs.


Road trip

I thought I should visit some of the National Parks here, like Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, Joshua Tree Park, Redwoods, ... and as I started planning my route, I realized that I should have at least one day per park and that it takes about 5-6 hours to get from one park to another. Well, I have to do research at some point as well ;-) So I decided that I should reduce the list and I ended up with Sequoia, Joshua Tree Park, Big Sur & Mcway Falls and the Computer Science Museum in Silicon Valley.

Big Sur (wikipedia).

Asking google for the distances and drives resulted in balanced driving-sight-seeing days (5 hours driving, 5 hours Joshua Tree Park hiking). All destinations are still in California - it's only one state and it feels like we're traveling all over Germany. A friend told me she has been visiting Death Valley and it was like "drive 200 miles, get off the car, walk 0.5 miles, drive 5 miles again, hike 1 mile, drive 300 miles to the next park".


92 and 29

I'm back in Germany for some time to renew my visa: Since my last visa was categorized as J1 and I am applying for the exact same type, I could put my passport and all other documents just into an envelope and sent them off to the US embassy in Frankfurt. Usually, you have to visit the embassy for an interview, but if you re-apply and you're lucky, you don't have to travel there :-) At the same time, this is pretty scary because in case you forget anything, the passport travels back and you have to re-do the entire procedure - but I don't have time for that since my flight back is booked ;-)

Being back in Germany is nice! Suddenly, there are seasons again! The Californian coast is always kind of green-brown-ish. Yet, you notice, how weird the German language and culture is. The spelling of numbers is an example which made my day today: I was supposed to pay an amount of x Euro and 92 cents and I digged out x Euro and 29 cents. We say "two and ninety" in German instead of "ninety-two" and 29 is "nine and twenty" as in English "twenty-nine". As I have started counting in my mind in English recently as well, I guess I processed the 2 from "two and ninety" first and then the 9, making 29 in total. Mh, that might be confusing, but I thought it's kind of interesting that we first name the number of ones then the tens in German (or even more confusing: first hundreds, then ones and then tens!).


One week in lab...

... saves you one entire hour of literature reading! Isn't that a great deal?! Well, after that week in lab, I felt that's not even as cool as any weird raffle after I participated in a survey. But it turned out that it be completely fine to do it all again, since we had slightly different conditions then most papers.

What's going on: We want to study polymerizing tubulin and it happens to work particularly well at 35°C. So we have to heat up the chamber of the microscope we work with (a confocal microscope) to 35°C which takes about 25 min. That's when we could start measuring. But as it turned out, different parts of the microscope have to adjust to the 35°C, i.e. they expand the sample drifts. Unfortunately, we are considered about dynamics in the sample, so it's important if you image the very same spot and the sample got moved there or if it moved itself...
Thus, you need some rigid reference, for example, on the glass surface and you record the sample's drift as well. Fluorescent beads become your reference by baking them onto the glass.

It turned out, that all major dynamics we saw were due to drift and we don't have a dynamic network (yet!). We needed about a week to explore different conditions and looking at literature confirmed that (at least, that's the optimistic interpretation ;)).


"Feel the bern"

Bernie Sanders has probably been the most "European" candidate ever running for presidency in the US. Instead of the usual buzzwords as "great America", "military power" and "yeah, of course, less taxes!" there was "no tuition fees", "social justice" and "stop racism" - what's going on?!

It's only a real candidate if there are all kinds of stickers, e.g. Bernie-sticker on a car.

The support of Sanders in California has been tremendous since quite a few universities cluster at the coast and some of them are famous for the "left" movements and attitudes. Thus, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary here yesterday, but Bernie Sanders still got 43.2% (Clinton: 55.8%). Clinton is said to be very Republican for a Democratic candidate, but her views are not as "socialistic" (as the media puts it) as Sanders'. I was very surprised when I heard people talk about Sanders and that his election "would be absolutely impossible" since "America is not ready for no tuitions". 

Students here have more than 180 000 $ loans after finishing college and it takes tens of years to pay those back, so why should the not be ready for not paying that?! Apparently that contradicts the "freedom" you have to get education (why should everybody pay for it and then you can choose if you like it, so you are forced to pay anyway OR you pay this horrendous amount of tuition fees, but you have freedom to choose if you like it ... hurray...). Yet, there are many different scholarships you can get to get rid of the fees.

Maybe America is not ready for a sudden shift to zero tuition fees, but I think the great support Bernie Sanders gets here, shows, that something is going on!


June Gloom

It's called "June Gloom and it's the fog, which has come up every single morning for two weeks now. It makes the mornings cold, but it's gone around noon and the sun shines until sunset. It's so hard to tell if you should wear pants or shorts because it always looks like a rainy day at 8 am.

June Gloom covering the view on Los Angeles from a house on top of a hill in Santa Monica.

 Last time I went to a Fulbright even we had a far view on Los Angeles, but with the fog it just looks like the photo above.

Last Saturday we had the end-of-year-Fulbright event at the same house, i.e. all Fulbright students and scholar around Los Angeles are invited to our coordinator's place, we have a barbecue and everybody brings international food. It was absolutely great! I enjoyed Naan bread and Nutella which is a nice international combination and lots of good conversation. While driving down a bunch of people from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, I listened to a conversation about religion, freedom and life in general between an Israeli Jew and a Pakistani Muslim - I had to concentrate on driving, but I am glad that Fulbright brought those people together! It was super interesting to listen.


My new project

Research is so fun! (... when it works ;) at least I am very happy right now, but I guess this honeymoon phase won't last forever.) On Tuesday we've installed a new camera we bought for particle tracking and aligned it. Now matter if you've taken an optics class or not, the alignment of a beam and lenses is something experimentally challenging (this translates as "annoying and rather difficult" in real life). But once that works, it's great to observe something on a screen you  projected on paper beforehand. 

As it turned out, our small added camera path might be nicely aligned, but the microscope isn't, i.e. if an object is drifting up or down, it goes left or right on the screen. That's absolutely unwanted and scary. We'll do microscope alignment at some point, but right now we're only interested in 2d data, so we don't care much about the aberration.

With the new camera, we are going to look at beads in a dynamic network, which is made of microtubules. So far, the network exists in different, but semi-static cases and we have to find its dynamics. I started taking small movies of our network with a confocal microscope, but the network only grows and then it stops changing. We'll play around with its chemistry and see what we can do. Fortunately, we have some microtubule experts on campus so I'm sure we'll find a solution.

But making your own sample in the lab and then seeing it under a microscope is a great feeling! It's what you made. Or installing a camera and it finally works! 


San Francisco (2)

If you're planning to go to San Francisco you should not miss out Alcatraz! You just have to remember to reserve tickets at least one week in advance. For our trip, that was even a bit too late and we only got some weird combo-tickets for 100$ which included the Dungeon and Madame Tussauds. Alcatraz was a military basis for a long time until 1861 when it became a war prison. "Normal" prisoners cam later, but in 1963 it was closed down because its maintenance costs were too high and the building was too old. Nowadays it belongs to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the National Park Service takes care of it.

The prison building is one of the saddest buildings I've ever entered. The cells are small and you can feel their history everywhere. If you visit, there'll be hundreds of tourists around you which makes the atmosphere a bit strange. But nature's growing great on the island (there are some very happy sea gulls around and many colorful flowers).