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No Dark Side of the Moon

Dear Michael,
The last full moon of 2013 was visible in the night between December 16th and 17th. This is a view over Parkers Piece in Cambridge, with the sky slightly claudy.

Although the moon is clearly masked here by some clouds, from a different view point (maybe only a few miles away) this might look completely different. Another blogger (in Sicily) made a very clear photo of the moon, I guess at the same night. But the confusion about the moons illumination (i.e. full moon or new moon) and its visibility (above horizon, below horizon, or masked by clouds) goes much further when people refer to the moons hemispheres relative to the earth. Because moons rotation around its axis is perfectly synchronous to its circulation around the earth, moon always faces the same side towards earth. With the exception of a slight deviation, we can therefore only see not much more than 50% of its surface. This is the hemisphere that always faces earth. The hemishere that faces away from earth was only photographed once the Russians succesfully launched the first man-made lunar orbiter in 1957. 

Man-kind of course was always fascinated by this "invisible" side of the moon, they perhaps assumed that someone dangerous is hiding there or something precious can be found there. The most weired idea was shown in the recent movie "Iron Sky", where Nazi refugees did not went to South America to hide after World War II, but occupied this averse side of the moon and there, as every evil breed,  proliferated and became strong enough to attack our democratic and liberal civilization in an awful attempt of revenge 70 years later .
And here (if you carefully listen to the voice at 33'') you have the indication of one of the biggest misunderstandings in our pop-culture when it comes to the two hemispheres of the moon.  When the Nazi kids are asked in a school lesson where they come from, they univocally shout "From the Dark Side of the Moon". This term "Dark Side of the Moon" became such a fixed term in pop-culture, that nobody questions its meaning any more. All the reviews for "Iron Sky" talked about the dark side of the moon, and it so nicely suits with the black Nazi outfit.
Before Iron Sky, there was another movie in the year 1990 by D. J. Webster, called "The Dark Side of the Moon", but was much less satirical.
Much earlier, the UK progressive rock band Pink Floyd called their most succesful album The Dark Side of the Moon. I guess they used the metaphorical dark (or invisible) side as a reference to the band founder and writer Syd Barret, who after leaving the band caused a creative crisis and left many unanswered questions. The video below is from a concert movie they produced a year earlier in Pompej.

The first time somebody wrote down the concept of a moons dark side was Mark Twain, in a collection of aphorisms he said „Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.“

But despite this widespread usage of the phrase "Dark Side of the Moon", there is no area on our lunar neighbour that is permanently dark or bright. Each place on moon, whether its facing earth or not, experiences a regular day-night-intervall. The difference to earth, however, is that there are about 14 days uninterrupted sunlight followed by the same period of darkness.

This is to you and the New Year
Take Care


Winter Life

When we moved to England in 1992, we quickly realized that the British Islands are very distinct in terms of their nature. Nowhere else we have seen before trees full of blossoms in early January. At least till today I was convinced that this must have to do with the rather mild winter in the southern counties of the UK, like Kent, Sussex or Surrey, where we lived. Today I found the exact same tree on a cemetry in Munich, and became interested in its history and how it became so resistant to cold weather.

Bodnant viburnum, on Daglfing cementry, December 28th 2013

The name of this tree is Bodnant viburnum (Duft-Schneeball in German), and it is actually a product of man made plant breeding. The cross of Viburnum farreri (formerly V. fragrans) and V. grandiflorum was originally made by Charles Lamont, the Assistant Curator at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh in 1933, and I guess this is the reason why it became first popular in gardens and parks in Brittan, and only later was imported to other European countries.
So this tree is unique for showing its real beauty only in winter time, when (at least in Germany) most other plants lost their leaves and look pretty sad. I don't really know why all around the world people warship so much the Christmas tree. I think they are pretty boring, and except for their wood have no use at all. Their needles are a pest once you have them on your carpet, and if you have them in your garden, they poison all other plants (by producing humic acid). Their roots destroy the foundations of buildings, inhibit the growth of grass and promote growth of moss. If you have some spruce or fir in your garden, you can be sure that after a while the garden looks like a dark forest. we have three of them in our garden, and I plan to cut them all this year to heat our oven with their wood. But even for heating, they are no good choice, since their resin causes a lot of soot which contaminates the chimney.
I would therefore opt to replace the fir (christmas tree) as symbol of life in hard winter times with Bodnant viburnum. It is an elegant and beautiful three, and it permits the few rays of winter sun to reach us, whereas pines and firs are like black spots which block the sun.
By the way, there are other plant species which resist the winter cold. I also like a lot the winter-hard cereals like rhy or barley, which look freshly green even at the strongest frost.

Winter rhy, near Munich-Daglfing, December 2013
When I saw these tiny young shouts now in December, I was happy to know that next year we will have again fields full of golden rhy with its tentalizing odor in summer.


Sollbruchstelle and Fremdkoerper

Hi Ghazal,
despite the overwhelming usage of English terms in modern language, there are still a couple of words imported from German which became common in English texts. "Eigenvalues" and "Eigenvectors" are important solutions of multidimensional algebraic equations, "Anlage" is used in developmental biology to describe a primordial structure that has the potential to form an organ or an anatomic structure later on. A term I personally would like very much to promote for use in English texts is "Fremdkoerper", literary translated "Foreign Body". Whereas the english "Foreign Body" sounds very ambigous, only receiving meaning within a particular context, the German "Fremdkoerper" always refers not only to the item itself (i.e. the piece that is located where it does not belong to), but it immediately implies the counter-reaction that it induces. A "Fremdkoerper" somewhere in your body causes pain, inflammation or an immune reaction. A "Fremdkoerper" in the society causes widespread aversion, mobbing by the collective crowd, police investigations and legal trials, finally branding the "Fremdkoerper" as a heretic thread to the society and a person which has to be isolated and kept under permanent surveilance.
Recently our son came home from school lessons in social and economic politics, telling me that the evil capitalists introduce "predetermined breaking points" in their consumer products, thereby making sure that the stuff they sell has a limitted life span and needs replacement after not too long time. He quoted a light-bulb that since 112 years works without any defect in a California firehouse. He told me that everything we buy nowadays (and in particular the Christmas gifts he will receive the day after tomorrow) come with such inbuild "predetermined breaking points", making sure they wont last till Christmas next year. I told him that George Michael and the Wham had the same idea already 30 years ago, and made one of the greatest Christmas pop-songs of the idea that a heart you give to somebody as a gift has a "predetermined breaking points", making the love to last only for a short time. Whether or not one believes in such "predetermined breaking points" in all modern products, I think that one more time German languages provides a more crispy and pointed solution: SOLLBRUCHSTELLE. In contrast to the English word, it not only defines the "Breaking Point" (-bruchstelle) as something that was included with a special purpose, but it also explaines that its  purpose is the prevention of a desaster by breaking in advance. You can find Sollbruchstellen at the handle of a beer stein, to break if people beat each others heads with them and prevent a too fiercely head trauma. And everbody is perhaps familiar with the rectangular groove pattern on chocolate bars, predetermined breaking lines to make sure you can break the chocolate in small pieces before your fingernails break. Sollbruchstellen, "predetermined breaking points" are therefore no recent invention by the industry, but something as old and maybe even older than mankind. Obviously, as soon as God (or however you call it) came up with the idea of living organisms, he invented the build-in SOLLBRUCHSTELLE. Each living organisms has a timer that unevitably runs down, and as long as we have not found the construction detail to inactivate the SOLLBRUCHSTELLE, will terminate. Ashes to ashes, Funk to Funky. Our research in stem-cell aging and replacement clearly tries to find out how to fix the SOLLBRUCHSTELLE of life. From a biochemical or biophysical point of view, there is no need for a termination of life.

Happy Yalda


Letter of Endorsement for an Angel in Heaven

No doubt Christmas time is on the verge again, and with it come this very weird species of christmas angels. They are populating the highstreets, department stores and all the media, and depending on where in the world one goes, they are called either kid Jesus Christ (Christkindl), Snowflake (Snegotchka) or End-of-Years-Winged-Puppet (Jahresabschluss-Fluegelpuppe). But recently I received a personal message from somebody who most likely is up in heaven now. It was a request through one of the professional social media networks called ResearchGate, and it came from a person I knew very well.  In this message I was asked by Beatrix N., a former colleague from a colaborating institute, to write an endorsement for her skills in Genetics of complex diseases, transgenic mice and gene mapping.  The problem was, that Beatrix died half a year ago in a dreadful accident, when a truck hit her on her bike.  She died in her mid 30s, and the institute for experiemental genetics lost one of their very social and scientifically commited researchers. I am happy that she was a co-author and a driving force of my first paper on Parkinson-Disease in a mutant mouse model.
But when I received the ReserachGate request today, I thought how weired it is that people after death remain a member of the scientific community.  It would be nice to imagine that they carry on to contribute to science from heaven. Of course I am convinced that Beatrix made it up their, I think she would enjoy to argue with St Peter, since she was always very good in arguing. And if my "letter of endorsement" for her scientific skills helps her to open the gates of the paradise, I would be so happy. In particular I like the idea that with her eminent critical view onto our rotten society she might also drive the wardens of heaven a bit crazy.
Best greetings up there, Beatrix, and the next paper on mouse neurodegeneration we will dedicate to you personally.


Supersize Obamacare

There is currently this cartoon circulating around in the global internet, showing Obama and a little boy in a restaurant, talking about the identity of the boys dad. Just by chance, I recognized that the US president and this little boy had ordered quite different types of food, with the little boy obviously just finishing a large supersize fastfood dish. I thought that there might have been a quite different conversation between the two.


The Run for instant Fame in Science hampers our Search for Truth ?

Dear Michael,
Since I did my master in Munich 3 years ago and now work on my PhD thesis I observe a trend in scientific research that worries me more and more. It seems to me that in the current research communities a devastating rush takes over to carry out large numbers of experiments as fast as possible and publishing their results before the initial findings could be carefully verified. On the other hand, there is the absurd tendency to start new projects, work on them in a very superficial way and finish them before anybody was able to go into depth and understand more global implications. A typical example are large whole-genome association studies, which generate endless data columns of genes with more-or-less clear links to human diseases. At the end, the usual conclusion derived from these studies is that "everything in biology is link with everything in life-science", virtually telling us nothing new. Before anybody could afford to take a complex physiological or pathological network apart and study a single biological mechanism in a defined model, the funding has usually expired and the scientific caravan went further, leaving behind only some empty water bottles and cold fire-places, but no documents to testify that the place where they erected their camp for some time was a good place and how much we have learned here. Gary Marcus wrote recently a text in The Newyorker where he explains that this not only is a very inefficient way of spending research funds, but that it even undermines the reputation of the entire research community. In Science and Its Sceptics he calls for 

"... greater enthusiasm for those people who are willing to invest the time to try to sort the truth from hype and bring that to the public. Academic science does far too little to encourage such voices. " 

But Marcus also defends the right of scientists to walk on unfortified roads, since the daily business of research is to go forward on a provisional area. This, however should not lead to a dismission of science altogether. But it is in my understanding like climbing a rock using a rope: you can go forward to the next fix-point maybe 5 meters, and when you fall you might fall 10 meters before the rope holds you. This is still acceptable, the perspective to get 5 meters higher justifies the risk fall 10 meters down and get some superficial scratches and bruises. If you risk to climb up 10 meters before fixing the rope on the next hook, however you risk to fall down 20 meters before the rope catches you, and this might cause fractures or other lesions that could become life threatening. In research, of course, it is not a matter of damaging your own physical health or your life, but to risk that a whole scientific project be put on the verge of destruction.

I am longing for the possibility to follow a single project into its depth, to discover and verify something really new and important.

take care,



For my colleague from Israel it was a matter of faith, when he warned me that going to the lab on a Saturday wont be favored by God. Yes I know, I said to him, but first of all I am an bloody atheist, and second this super-ambitious student in my group occupies the RealTime PCR machine every day of the week. So to check the results of my transfected cell cultures, I have to do it on the weekend. Moishe from Israel was just smiling, saying that in Israel nobody would trust any experiments which were done on a Saturday. 
I ignored his remarks, and of course came here yesterday, when Moishe was sitting at home doing the Shabbat, avoiding to manually switching on any light or cooker, let alone a computer or anything else related with work.
I was happy to do a large batch of gene-expression measurements that nicely filled an entire 96well reaction plate. I also was happy to find a new batch of the qRT-PCR master-mix, from a company which just promoted their more reliable, more sophisticated, simply cooler enzyme and fluorescence formula. Everything went pretty smooth, and after pipetting the cDNAs and the primers and the master-mix I happily quitted the "Are you sure you want to start the run" button, locked the lab door and jumped on my bike to ride home.
Today when I came to collect and analyzed the results I immediately recognised something fishy had happened. The usually very smooth and nice ordered kinetic curves all looked like the footpathes of  a crowd of drunken teens. They were jumping up and down on the diagram and simply did not made any sense at all.
So I thougth to consult the FAQ page of Agilent, the supplier of the new qRT-PCR kit I used first time on Shabbat. One question was "How much of the internal fluorescence dye standard should I add to the reaction" ? What they mean by "adding an internal fluorescence dye standard", usually all other kits we used before had this already pre-mixed. Only Agilent, for their own enigmatic reason, decided to ship it separately, and have it added by the customer himself.
The consequence of my insistence to work on the holy Saturday: I worked 2 hours for nothing, and I wasted the reagents for 96 reactions (at a price of 0,80 € per reaction plus consumables, i.e. about 100 € in total). 
I promise I wont turn to any religious faith now, but maybe I try a little bit of Superstition.


Heartache at the Stock-Exchange

For their personal wealth-management people have a quite different perception for money that they lost after investing into a falling fund, as compared to money they have failed to invest into a growing fund. In the first instance, they consider that it was once their "own" money (but in essence just a green bill that still belongs to the central bank), which - after investing into the "wrong" company - is now in the pocket of somebody else. In contrast, if they failed or forgot to invest into a company whos shares increased over time, this missed opportunities causes them much less regret. This is difficult to understand from a pure economic point of view, since it does not make a real difference on the long run if you either lose money that you possesed before, or if you missed the opportunity to gain the same sum of money. In mathematical terms: a double negation (avoiding a loss) is the same as positive gain.
Professional wealth manager know this intuitively, and to improve the total performance of their business it is equally efficient for them to avoid losses at single positions or to invest more into positions which are gaining profit. The failure to invest into a growing fund (like W.Buffets Berkshire-Hathaway Inc) should cause the same feeling of regrett as putting money into a loss-making fund (like Dell Computers Inc), the first of which doubled its share value over the last 5 years, wheres the latter lost half of its value during the same period.

You might say that, first of all, this is pure economic theory, and it is far away from the emotions we are suffering when we see our hardly earned money being burnt down by a badly advised investment. It might cause us a headche, but at least it wont cause us a heartache. Both arguments are somehow right, but only if one leaves the pure economic reasoning and starts arguing on the psychological level.

Now we came to point where economic reason interferes with emotions, with sorrow, feeling of pleasure and happiness and the like. And on this stage, we can go another step and compare the losses/missed opportunities on the stock market with another area of life where we also hope that investments will give us lots of rewards and happiness over a long time:  I am now talking about partnership, romance and love.
Here again, you hope that a loving relationship into which you have invested your feelings, many years of your life, last but not least some precious parts of your body, that this investment does not suddenly fail. If it does, it is usually associated with unpleasant emotions, hate, and a long term decline in self-esteem. People talking of their broken relationships are not really a source of very poetic ideas. They see themself as being betrayed, and - like in the case of a wrong investment - they deeply regret to have actively made a wrong decision. They would like to turn back time thinking "I wished I would have never meet you, becaused you have taken away the best 5/10/20 years of my life". People are usually not very enthusiastic writing blogs about their broken relationships, and if you find them they are not very touching somehow.
Another reaction you can find in people who suffer from an unresponded love. Objectively, their net ballance is the same as in case of a broken relationship. But in contrast to them, they suffer from the feeling that despite trying very hard they did not manage yet to start a relationship (investment) that would be so beneficial for them. So in contrast to someone who face the ruins of a failed relationship, the second category of people feel unlucky to start the relationship they want so heavily. (Rolling Stones: "Love in Vain")

The great song "Love in Vain" (original Blues by Robert Johnsson) shows very clearly that the feeling of not achieving the love we want might not be much easier to live with, but in contrast to the mental state after a broken relationship, at least it can be the source of great artistic expression. Garcia Marquez' great novel "Love in the times of Cholera" describes this, as did Charlotte Bronte in "Jane Eyre". The different self perception after a soul-destructing end of a relationship, and in contrast during the patient, tolerable time in a waiting room of a romantic love must have to do with peculiarities of our emotional reward system. It is easier to hope (endlessly) for the opportunity to get a reward, than to see that a reward has been refused for something we invested in.


Traditional Craftwork meets Modern Marketing

Next to our cottage in the Bulgarian Balkan Mountains (or Stara Planina) lives a three generations family. They are traditional mountain farmers, with goats and sheeps and a couple of acres land up on the plains. Always when I visit the village, I go over to Petars family to say Hello and to pay them for the expenses they have when they regularly having a look at our estate. 
And as always, we are invited to spend at least one evening with them and eat the plenty of Bulgarian food and drink the home-made rakia.
This time they told us their recent experience with modern information technology and globalisation. Dijan, their 15 years old son like every typical youngsters soon became the family expert for all questions relating internet. He proved his talent and creativity by attempting to make some money from traditional craftswork of his grandma.  She is a still very powerful and healthy woman, and prefers to spend the entire summer season up in a sort of ermitage, about 1 hour steep climing 1000 meters up, where water comes from mountain springs, and the air and soil is simply as pure and crisp and pristane as on the first days of creation. She lives there for about 5 month, only from milk, cheese, and fruits, and to spend the time for something nice, she usually weaves a traditional type of Bulgarian rug (called Tcherga, see below) on an ancient weaving loom.

Like the socks which Penelope nitted while she was waiting for Ulysses, the carpet on Dijans grandmas weaving loom becomes longer and longer with the summer month' passing by. Early in September this year, when the family brought her back down to the village, she had produced about 25 m (!!!) of this fine, artisan rug, nicely rolled on a drum like you find them in highstreet carpet shops.
Nobody of the family spend any thought what to do with this long carpet, maybe they all assumed it will be a nice gift once the grandson is going to build his own house for his own family. Only Dijan himself, obviously just discovering the global potential of Ebay, had a sudden idea. He made a photo of a small piece of the Tcherga and offered it on the online shopping platform (for the price of 5 Leva or 2.50 Euro per meter !!!!). This would be equivalent of paying for 5 month of grandmas beautiful craftswork 73 Euro.  Even for Bulgarian standard, this would be a beggars salary, let alone the value of such a rare and talented piece of art.
So first we were laughing when they told me this story, and then to resolve the conflict between economic needs and the goal to properly evaluate talented craftswork, I paid Dijan the price of the entire carpet and demanded that the Tcherga stays in possesion of the family, as was grandmas original intention while working day after day on the weaving loom.
Dijans grandma was so releaved about this salomonic solution, that she asked me if I would except a Tcherga as a gift from her. How could I refuse such rare piece of artisan craftwork ?  And of course asking for the price for it would have been considered a personal offence. But I ask her that a 5 meters rug would be fine, since we dont live in a castle in Munich.


Ready for Lift-Off: The Persian Cat on the Verge of Cosmic Fame

Shall I feel honoured that finally the Iranian authorities recognised my effort to promote the Persian Cat as a mayor player in science and research ?  Or shall I tell them what other science nations have experienced a long time ago ? 

Here is the recent news (source: The Guardian) about another effort of the Tehran regime to conquer space:

"Iran says it is considering sending a persian cat into space as the next animal astronaut after claiming it launched a monkey earlier this year. The effort is part of Iranian ambitions to send a human into space by 2018, but questions have been raised about the reported successes of the country's animal missions. Monday's report by the official IRNA news agency quotes the space official Mohammad Ebrahimi as saying the next animal could be the distinctive persian cat, a long-haired, flat-faced breed named after Iran's former name of Persia. No other details were given. In February, Iran insisted it successfully sent a monkey outside Earth's atmosphere and returned it safely. But photos raised international questions about whether the same animal was shown in pre- and post-launch images."

I assume it was more the name of the species (Persian Cat) which prompted the Iranian authorities to make a fixed booking for it in the next rocket to be launched, rather than any objective scientific arguments.  If everything will go well, they might state that "... a Persian was succesfully brought into orbit and back". If the mission fails, they will say "... a cat was lost during another test flight.".
The probability getting valuable data from a cat mission is small, anyhow. Whereas dogs were found by the Russians in the later 50s and early 60s to be extremely cooperative cosmonauts and provided a wealth of useful data, cats are a different story.  Every cat owner knows how delicate these cosy creatures are, how ladylike they behave, how easy it is to offend them and how resentful cats are.
If anybody remembers the pictures of how happy and gratefully "Bjelka and Strjelka", the two famous Russian space dogs left the Sputnik-5 landing capsule after returning from one day in space, and the first thing they did was running to their owner to lick his feets and face, full of gratitude for this big adventure, the return of a Persian Cat from space will end in a big disappointment:
1)  When the Iranian return capsule opens, the Persian Cat will appear very sleepy and arch its back.
2)  When the scientists try to help her out, she will spit and scratch.
3)  After leaving the capsule, she will walk away without looking back.
4) When she meets other cats, she will pretend that the space is full of mice, and she only came back because all the tomcats around are longing for her.


Just an ordinary day

Came to my lab at 9.30 am, with the firm idea to finish a manuscript and work a bid on my DSc thesis.

 At 9.40 am my master student arrived, whom a had not seen for the last 3 month after he did his last experiments. Two weeks ago he called to tell me that all his MSc thesis drafts got lost after he visited Munich Oktoberfest. O.k., I thought, the guy will have to rewrite the few parts he had not backed up then. A week ago he send an e-mail to tell me his parents had used his backup USB stick to store all holyday photos on, thereby overwriting the backup. Today he came around with a MSC thesis rewritten from scrap within a week, to ask me my opinion and corrections. I asked him to show me his protocoll-book with the original records and data. He sad "Sorry, but the Lab-book was also stolen at the Oktoberfest". This is the final disaster: Without the original protocol documentation, all his master thesis are worth nothing and publication is a joke. 

At 11.20 am a secretary from another Institute asked me for an advice of how to organize a lecture series. I told her this and that, and also that the students usually like to have name badges to be identified as course participants at the cafeteria. An hour later she asked me how such name badges can be made, and what she should write on them. I remained very calm, I don't know why. 

After lunch my office door opended and in came a strange guy from Japan. Looked like a world traveller with two suitcases. Explained me he just arrived from Minnesota University, where he skipped his BSc biology study. Asked me if he can work with me, doing proteomics and radiation biology. He said he can not go to Japan, cause everything there is radioactive, and he has documentation in his suitcase, and therefore the Japanese police is after him. He can not return to the US, since they also hunt him, because he knows too much. He said he does not want to study further, 'cause Master or PhD is too hard for him. And becoming a professor would not satisfy his ambitions to tell the world all the things he knows (and which are written in his documents). He also considered becoming a director of his own company, but he is not so much interested in making lots of money. At the moment he has not a single pence to take the bus to town, therefore he asked me very politely if he could sleep somewhere in our institutes building ( I like the Japanese people so much, for their politeness. He bowed again and again, even if I told him that our Institute is also completely contaminated by radioactive stuff, and that he would risk his last few brain cells by staying here overnight).

So happy, that tonight I go rehersing with our rock band. I hope we play some dirty Punk tonight in the backstore of this Munich petrol station. Sorry, but I did not managed to work on the manuscript, or on the DSc thesis. But I promise, tomorrow I will do nothing else (unless a silly MSc student comes with new horror messages, or a stupid secretary askes for advice how to sharpen a pencil, or a Japanese weirdo wants to colaborate with me to teach the whole mankind).


Harvest Time

Watching my tomatoes now, 4 month after I starting them from seeds in early May, I realize that I have really neglected my blog without any obvious reason. Plenty of work is a bad explanation, I agree, since I never liked the idea to sacrifice everything in life for commitments at my job.
But at least for the tomatoes, there was not so much to report over the last month. They quickly grew, developed their defence against the snails, drank a lot of water (which unfortunately was abundant this year from rain), developed tiny, unspectecular blossoms, where the pollens managed to fertilize the carpels by wind or - most likely - assisted by our dog wagging his tail against them (I will soon write a wikipedia article explaining in detail "dog-tail pollination").
Finally, they all developed fruits, although only few of them fully ripened until now, late September. Although it is still sunny weather, I guess the riping program stoped because it is not warm enough any more in the morning.
Here are the pictures of the different variants.

   1:  Oxheart-tomatoes (Bulgaria)

 2:  Cocktail-tomatoes (Italy)

  3:  Egg-tomatoes (Germany) 

 4:  Austrian Monster-tomatoes (Germany/Austria)

  5:  Cherry-tomatoes (Israel)

                                No picture (young plants were eaten by snails, perhaps weak pest defence)
 6:  Vine-tomatoes (Hungary)

It's a pitty I started too late with the plantation this year (Early May). Therefore, although 2013 in general was a very good tomatoe year with almost no fungi or mold, lots of the berries remained green. I will collect their seeds for next years culture. 
I was completely amazed to see that although all seeds I planted this year were pealed from tomato berries  bought in supermarkets or picked from restaurants salad bars, the new generation plants grew pretty strong and the fruits resembled to a large degree the shape and size of last years generation. I had expected much more deviations from the parental generation and more inbreeding surpression, because of the genetic shift in the F2 intercross and loss of heterozygosity.
The few fruits that became red now in late September were no doubts much more delicious than every tomato one can get in the supermarket.

The green ones from above turn red after 2 weeks in the house. Although they missed the sun during ripening, they still topped the standard supermarket tomatoes in terms of taste and varigation.



The way to catch your audience' interest

At the annual Mouse Molecular Genetics conference at the Sanger Center in Hinxton. Some of the presentations seem to attract more attention by the audience than others, and this not only depends on the originality of the subject or the wealth of novel results. Not completely unexpected, speakers also had quite different presentation styles. Some were giving their presentation while looking towards the audience and only turn towards the overhead slides behind them if necessarry. Others talked for 15 minutes while cosistently turning away from the audience, showing them mainly the backside of their had. One could get the impression as if they are talking to themself or to their slides. Not only performing artists and musicians know quite well that in order to catch the audience' attention its crucial to show them your face. Even politicians understoud meanwhile that if they present a speech to the public, and they have to read the speech from a script, its better to read it from a half-transparent mirrow, still allowing them to look into the eyes of the audience. Its a pitty that only at scientific meetings you still find this unpolite habit of turning the face away from the audience.

Two examples of speakers who permanently turn their face away from the audience, thus failing to build a good relationship with the people in the lecture hall.

 These scientists did it beter by looking most of the time towards the audience.


Holy Christ for Gods sake

Today at the beach in Albena at the Black Sea, a boy slipped and fall on a jelly-fish. When I searched in Google for the proper expression of such a misfortune, it suggested "slip on a banana skin" as the most popular search term. And for this, the top rank picture must have been one posted by Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens.

Needless to say I like it as well, makes Christ in my eyes much more sympathic. And by the way, I always thought that his martyrdom at the cross was a legend. In fact he died from drowning when we wanted to proof he can walk over the sea.


Natural born Liars

Hi Michael, do you know who are the greatest liars in history ? The founders and representatives of all the different religions on earth made lying their biggest job. Whether they do it with purpose or because they don't know any better, that does not make a difference. But promoting lies is their natural business. Although their followers become less and less over the centuries, their bad seed still causes enough harm and tragedy.
Take Care


Tomatoes - from all around the world

Dear Ghazal, I think one of the best souvenirs one can bring home from a journey are plants. Knowing how easy it is to grow tomatoes from seeds, I am constantly on the hunt for some variants from other countries. In particular I like to collect the seeds from the ripe fruits themself, be it from a salat dish in a mediterranean restaurant, be it from an oriental vegetable market or from a small garden in a suburb village. 
After stripping the seeds from its viscous cover using a piece of tissue paper and drying them quickly between some sheets of a newspaper, they can be stored till next spring. Ideally, I remember the stored seeds in February or March, rehydrate them over night in some ml of water and put them about 5mm deep into a shallow box with garden soil. The box can be left under a plastic foil to keep it moist on a warm and sunny place behind the window (I prefer to place them on my office window). After a few days, one should see the first sprouts and than they grow quite fast, which requires the plastic foil to be removed. Since they start to consume water now from the soil and without the plastic foil there is also more evaporation, the box should be checked daily and if necessary, watered. 
Below shows the box after 3 weeks. I had seeded 6 variants of tomatoes, which are (from top left in clockwise order: 
1:  Oxheart-tomatoes (Bulgarian farmers market)
2:  Cocktail-tomatoes (from vegetable salat, Tratoria, Vietri-sul-Mare)
3:  Egg-tomatoes (Penny supermarket, Munich)
4:  Austrian Monster-tomatoes (stolen from my neighbours garden, Munich)
5:  Cherry-tomatoes (Carmel Market, Tel Aviv, Israel)
6:  Vine-tomatoes (Made in Hungary, Aldi supermarket, Munich)

6 tomato variants, 3 weeks after planting seeds.

At this stage one could already see that they grow so dense, that one has to single them out and give each plant some more space. It is crucial at this stage of plant development that each sprout gets sufficient space underground to develop strong and dense roots. This gives them the best condition to withstand drought and resist parasites when they are later transfered out into the garden.
But at this stage it became also obvious that the 6 tomato variants which were collected from locations in different countries had considerably different growth rate. No.6 (Hungarian Vine-Tomatoes) were not growing at all, No. 2 (picked from an salat bowl at an Italian Tratoria) was growing weak.

After pricking them and transfer a single plant from each variant into one large pot, they look as shown below (note that the plants below and above are the same age. Below after 5 days growing separatly, above those which grew the entire 3 weeks together).

Tomatoes from above box, pricked and grown separately for last 5 days. (red cross: tiny plant, variant 5, from Tel-Aviv Carmel market.
Although the tomato is a typical new world plant, meaning it found its way to the European and Asian continent only after Columbus "discovered" America, they became so widespread here that people gave them quite different names. By the way, the offical latin term for tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum has some indirect relations to Persia. The scientific species epithet lycopersicum means "wolf peach", and comes from German werewolf myths. These said that deadly nightshade (Solanum) was used by witches and sorcerers in potions to transform themselves into werewolves, so the tomato's similar, but much larger, fruit was called the "wolf peach (in German: Pfirsich aka Persian)" when it arrived in Europe. The Aztecs called the fruit xitomatl (pronounced [ʃiːˈtomatɬ]), meaning plump thing with a navel. Most western European languages derived their names for "tomato" from the native-americans Tomatl. The Italians introduced their own term: pomodoro (from pomo d'oro "apple of gold"), and this was also borrowed into Polish and into several other slavic languages. A funny and sometimes confusing convention is found in Russian language, where the plants and the fruits are called "Pomidore", but the juice squeezed from them is called "Tomatnij sok". Also, the Germans had a historical unique name for them: Paradeisapfel (for "apple of paradise", which by the way is another cultural link to Persia, since Paradise originates from the Avestian terms "pairi.daêza", meaning a piece of land surrounded by a wall). Not very common in Germany any more (except in historical cooking- and gardening books), a derivative of it, Paradeiser is still used in the Bavarian and Austrian dialects, and was borrowed from there into modern Hungarian, Slovenian and Serbian.

10 days later, all plants grown very well. I have to transfer them quickly to the garden, before they start blossoming.


The Dark Side of Humor: Seizure induced by Laughing

Dear Michael, well, didn't we found agreement at least on this very subject:  that however difficult life might be and how long it can take before our efforts in research pay out, threre is always one measure to keep us from giving up. I am talking about human laughter. And it was not only Aristoteles who described human laughter as devine, but it was also identified in several medical studies as promoting health, protecting from various diseases and extending longevity.  I remember when we were riding on the bike through Munich, and you pushed me forward, I felt I should protest against this but in fact I could not, but instead I fell into laughter instinctively. And you said "12 laughters a day keeps the doctor away" ?  And I thought that at least for short term you were right, and it made me feel happy.
But now I red this article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Case Reports (Impact factor 0.4), entitled "Laugh-induced seizure: a case report" by MR Mainali et al from the Health System Department of Medicine in Reading, Pennsylvania. The patient, a 43 caucasian men suffered from "...multiple episodes of seizures, all induced by laughter while watching comedy shows..." (hic!) The patient described the conditions himself as following: "... I started laughing, then my arms started shaking and I felt like my consciousness was being vacuumed away... ". Now I became suspicious, whether I am suffering from the same symptoms. I don't mean that I felt my "...consciousness being vacuumed away..." those days on the bike in Munich, but my arms indeed started to shake a bit when you pushed me forward, and I lost control over the bikes handlebar. So it might have ended dangerous indeed, at least in this situation on the bike.
The authors of the study tested several treatments to help the poor man. The anti-convulosant drug Carbamazepine appeared to prevent the seizures for several month, but according to the FDA this drug has several potential side effects, in particular onto the unborn child of pregnant mothers. The authors concluded in their study that the safest measure against the seizures is by preventing all laugh-inducing situations.  I have to admit, since I started my PhD here in Stockholm, the frequency of laugh-inducing moments went down a little bit. I think to benefit from the healthy effects of laughter, I should instead expose myself intentionally to some extra laugh-inducing situations. As the authors very firmly state at the end of their paper, "... Smiles and laughter are universal human social gestures that involve a complex sequence of facial, pharyngeal and diaphragmatic muscle contractions and help to establish a friendly interaction with other people."  Unfortunatly, they don't make any suggestion about the Comedy that was so efficient in their patient to make him Rolling-on-the-Floor-Laughing.

Take Care, and keep smiling


Going North

Dear Michael, next week a scientific workshop on "Epigenetic factors in Radiation Biology" will be held at stockholm University. I am involved in its organistion. I'm wondering if you will attend the meeting ? Some really good speakers were invited, and I think it'll be fun.
Take Care /ghazal
Ghazal Dear, Thanks a lot for the information. I already received an invitation to the workshop a couple of month ago from M. But I decided to send Y. to present our studies there. You know my reservations to travel to northern countries. In fact there would be only three cases that would be worth for me to visit Sweden:
- A reunion concert of ABBA,
- they award me the Nobel price
 - (I tell you later).
good luck with the meeting Michael


Space Messages

Hi Michael, I recently had to remember your permanent speculation about extraterrestrial planets with habitable conditions suitable for you and an angel from outer space (and a horse). What you might have never considered, that the meteors we were observing in August some years ago might in fact carry some information on the living conditions at the planet from which they originate. 
When we were spotting some of these "Stjaernfallen" from the Persides meteor shower, I was amazed by their sheer existence and finally I defeated my initial doubts. It was a great moment when one of the meteorites apparently approached us head on, and to watch this rare event it was worth to spent half of the night out under the sky. 
And now scientists found out that some of the meteorites that don't burn completely in the atmosphere, but reach the earth surface, might serve as informative messengers from extreterrestrial planets and tell us something about how habitable the living conditions might be there.

Microscopic picture of the crystaline structure of a mineral from a meteorite supposed to be of Mars origin

The meteorites that we can see regularily on the night sky, with the highest incidence in August (Perseides) and in November (Leonides) not only gives us the chance to express our deepest wishes, but as researcher from Michigan State University recently discovered also contain mineral and chemical signatures that can signify habitable conditions on the planet from which they originate, such as the presence of water. But they also mentioned that "the trouble is by the time most of these meteorites have been lying around on Earth they pick up signatures that look just like habitable environments, because they are. Earth, obviously, is habitable.
Thats good to know, don't you think so ?

Take Care,


Signs on Grass

I first thought that these signs on the fields between Munich and our Lab were traces of the flying spaghetti monster. But they could also be clandestine messages by some omnipresent intelligent power from the 5th dimension. An almost unambigous evidence for the latter: When I drove by on my way home, my bike tyre went flat right at this place and I was forced to stop. So on this occasion, I captured the most weired of the Grass Signs and tried to interprete them: 

Dancing Fool

Cupid, lay down your bow ...

Modern Silkroad

On the Dancefloor

Stony Kiss

Troika Invasion

A huge step for the mankind

The "omnipresent intelligent creature" who draw these figures were in fact mice. And the lines are paths they used during the last 4 month under the snow. Now that winter is over, the snow cover is gone, and the mouse paths have no use any more.


Mysterious Moon

Ghazal Dear, I once went to Pompeji with somebody I was careless enough to fell in love with. We got lost there after sunset, when they closed the Pompeji necropolis for visitors. Walking around through the darkness we expected every second that a time leap might send us back to year 79 A.D., when the erupting Vesuv burried the town and all its people underneath. The red-orange background on the picture below is from a photo we did at this day, the mysterious moon in the foreground, however is from tonight. 


Intelligent Food Design

Hello Michael, So you think that posting photographs of food, half-eaten dishes from restaurants and so on blogs or FB (like I used to do) shows a lack of creativity, intellectual retardation and a developmental arrest at the oral stage ?  I have to admit, yes , I often post pictures of food to my PB pages, but usually they are either not yet touched (still in a perfect designed stage) or they are just decoration of a nice social company. You also had a recent picture with your colleagues in a restaurant, but this was either before you were served the food or you were there just drinking tea. 
I'd like to show you an example that pictures made during lunch not always have to do with a "..retardation at the oral developmental phase", but that they can also be the demonstration of a intellectual dispute. Today, for instance we had "baked Salmon with boiled potatoes and salad" for lunch in our institutes canteen. When I was about to dissect the fish on my plate I suddenly discovered that it did not contain any fish-bones !!!!  (see attached photo).

 In the concept of darwinian evolution, the appearance of the skeletton was a major leap. And as we all know, Fish were considered the first species belonging to the group of vertebrates.   
So how can it be that suddenly I catch an "invertebral salmon" on my plate ???  Could it be that this is a fake salmon, made by casting pangasius meat paste into a form that only looks
like a salmon ?

No, it is obvious, all vertrebrate fish are laboratory artifacts produced by pro-evolution scientist, whereas the one on my plate is a representative of natural fish.  Invertebrate Fish shows that darwinian evolution was never even a concept, but a product of a conspiracy.

Don't you think I'm right ?  
Take Care


Wireless Phone Charger

This is my alternative suggestion for a wireless phone charger, as recently announced by Nokia or by a blog post of Nargess. 
Jerusalem, Church of Sepulchre: For those who believe in it, this red stone plate on which Jesus was layed down after his death, can do miracles. I tested it with my mobile phone, and indeed it got fully recharged after placing it there for just one minute.

For more photos of a blasphemic journey through the holy land see here.  


The Paper Moon above Oetztal

This is the full moon near Sölden (Austria) in the Valley Oetztal last Wednesday. It was here that about 6000 years ago a lonely walker failed at his planed crossing through the alp mountains and lost his life. His mumified corps was release in 1991 from a melting glacier.
I hope that during this last tragic night of this winter passage, he also saw the moon as impressing as we saw it.


Indoctrination: FB "presents" its new style

What I am doing right now ???? The most stupid question Facebook came up with, because each time I open Facebook I am pissed off by their arrogant attempt to interfere with my life. So although I am a quite happy and relaxed and positive person, each time I read the Facebook inquiry "What are you doing right now" I have to admit: "This very moment, I am once again pissed off by Facebook". The latest rediculous move by FB: They let me know that they have just changed the design of my FB page. Very much reminds me of the announcement of the alien superpower in "Hitchhikers guide through the Universe" saying: We have decided to build a galactic superhighway through your solar system. For this reason the planet earth will be destroyed by tomorrow. What the hack these stupid FB managers think they are ? Just because they conquered a lot of webspace and attracted half the mankind (must have been the stupid half of it) to register for FB accounts, only to get completely addicted to meaningless text messages from so-called friends, this FB octopus dares to INFORM ME (!!!!!!) that they are going to change the design. They perhaps think they can keep half of mankind in a pre-embryonal state of mental development. Where are you, hackers, when we need you ?? When will you change the FB design into something really cool and groundbreaking, with smoke and guns and skulls giving some spice to this boring FB menues, and when will you turn this boring faint blue into a million of colours like at Woodstock, and add some annimation, please, like jumping logos, exploding icons, characters that dance around like in a tornado, and clocks that rotate counter-clockwise.

Happy Persian New Year - سال نو مبارک

Haft Sheen:  The 7 S..., a set of objects all starting with the persian letter Sheen   
People in and from Iran, Kurdistan and Afghanistan celebrate the beginning of their new year today. By precise astronomical calculation it started already yesterday at 11:02 GMT, since astronomers calculated that at this very minute the duration of day and night is equal (vernal equinox).
For today, I'd only like to wish all Iranian people a happy Nowruz, hoping that 2572 will be the last year of a 34 years long period of political and intellectual oppression in their home country.

I will later today add an alternative calculation here proposing a more rational estimation of the precise timepoint of Nowruz.


This incredible Moon

Ghazal Dear,
Why are so many people fascinated by the moon, which in fact has a much lesser impact on our physical life than the sun has? It is perhaps not only its position in space next to ours, but also the notion that the moons movement depends on the earth. So unlike the sun, which is like a superpower that nurishes us with its energy but would in fact equally be there without the Earth, the moon is more like the Earth' little sibling. Assuming that the Earth would suddenly disappear from its position, the moon would fly away into the endless space with a velocity of about 8800 km/h. The sun, however would not even recognise that the earth has disappeared. It is perhaps this fascination that an object as large as the moon and 380 thousand km away from us completely dependens on our existence what makes us feel an almost intime relationship with the moon.
Some people believe that the moon phases have a direct and immediate influence onto living organisms on Earth. But appart from the obvious changes in night darkness between new and full moon, and the corresponding impact on sleep or nocturnal activity of creatures and people, there is very little solid scientific proof that human health or plant physiology changes with the moon cycle. But it is not only myself who is amazed ones every month when the full moon rises above the horizon. Have a look at this short video sequence some astronomers did in New Zealand during January full moon. It is a real-time video shot at night with people observing the rising full moon (source: NASA Astronomers Picture of the Day).

It is most likely that the idea of the moon interfering with human physiology and health has its origin in the coincidental similarity of the period of femal oestrus cycle with the duration of the lunar cycle. But despite the apparent similarity between the 29.5 days lunar cycle period (or 27.3 days rotation period around the Earth) and the average 28.5 days of the femal oestrus cycle, there is no synchronity between these two oscillations.
But there was one observation that - for a short moment - made me wonder: Almost with the same frequency that I send to you images of the full moon every 28 days, you send back answers. It did not matter whether I send you just one or twenty e-mails per month: You always answered one per month, and this in very fixed intervalls. Therefore I was almost wondering if it is not so much your free will to write me occasionally, but more the result of a regular hormonal up and down that prompts you to reply to my letters.
Take Care Michael


Allert: Attempted Misuse of the Reputation of Science to whitewash Criminal Activities

Recently, the decade long abuse of young boys in schools and shelters of the catholic church in Germany was made public. These acts of sexual harassment and mental rape appeared to be a common practice in many institutions, where catholic priests had been given the right to “teach” or “supervise” children and adolescents. The higher church authorities up to Roman Curia had only one concern: to hide these practices from the public, therefore indirectly supporting the abusive priests over decades. When many of these activities were made public in 2010 and 2011, the judges decided that because of the long time passed away, most of the cases could not been sentenced any more. Following a public outcry and anger that let many people to leave their parishes, the Germany episcopal conference decided to install a council to evaluate the extend and circumstances of the sexual abuses under their roofs. The whole extent of these abuses are now described in a report, which is trivialized as a SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION. This reminds me of reports about planed animal experiments. 

Since 1986 whale hunting is banned by an international memorandum. But Island, Norway, South Korea and Japan successfully lobbied to the United Nations and were granted an exclusive status as SCIENTIFIC whale hunters. In total, several thousands of Mink, Fin and Humbpack whales are killed every year and declared a CONTRIBUTION TO SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.

Iran is setting up all necessary compounds for high-level Uranium enrichement and nuclear fission reactors. It is obvious, they have sufficient other energy ressources, and it is not difficult to imagine that their real intention is to build a nuclear bomb. But at least this lesson they already learned from the politicians in the West: The easiest thing to fool the publicity about your real bad intentions is to simply brand it as PURE SCIENTIFIC ACTIVITIES. Therefore, the Iranian mullah regime insist that these nuclear activities are only SCIENTIFIC PROJECTS. 

During the nazi-dictatorship in Germany, millions of Jews and Gypsies were murdered in concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Meydanek, Sobibor. In some of these places, doctors performed abusive medical experiments on the people before referring them to the gas chambers. Later on, they claimed to have done nothing but SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENTS on their victims, intended for the progress of MEDICAL RESEARCH. 

It is easy to misuse the historically high reputation of science for malevolent activities. But once this high reputation is lost, it will be almost impossible to re-establish it.