Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Chicken Polka

What lovely environs for recording the famous Chicken Polka, written and done right by Jananderss, and with live chickens. Now that I watch that again I see all of my mistakes!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Staycation

We tried to get to Colorado yesterday, but the completely booked flights and our low boarding priority created a perfect storm of several airport espressos and a long metro ride back to chez nous on a hot Parisian day. We didn't even try today because the loads did not look good again; but tomorrow may be the day.

So we decided on having a "staycation" today. And one of the results of that is another video! Our last video garnered so many positive responses that we decided to make another. This one we learned from this excellent YouTube video by Jananderss, and Carla and I arranged it together, with a bit of modulation to and from the fifth! (I know I need to learn to better separate the quick notes.)

If you cannot tell, we are both wearing USC Trojan gear -- which was not planned at all. We are not that kind of couple. Just happened that way today. On our staycation.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I have finally finished writing my first grant proposal, the cover page of which is displayed above. This process began about three months ago, but completely engulfed me about one month ago. For the past three weeks I have done nothing but work on this grant, honing its description of work, massaging its details into a concise and persuasive argument that is intelligible to experts and non-experts, making it easy to read on multiple levels and judge with respect to the criteria used in the review process. To give you an idea of what is in this proposal, here is its Table of Contents:
You can see that it is in classical arch form. Section 1 is about my proposed work, why it is important, what needs to be done, what is going to be done, how it is going to be done, what is novel about what is going to be done and how it is going to be done --- all with reference to the state-of-the-art in the field. Section 2 describes exactly how Europe benefits from me being one brain among many in the collective pursuit of knowledge. Section 3 presents my work and experience, which necessarily contains a big-headed account of me. Section 4 has specifics to prove I have thought through the work by providing a time-line with goals, and that the host institution can suitably contribute to this work. Section 5 persuades that the proposed work has positive benefits for institutions in Europe and their collaborative work with the US. The final section describes any ethical issues that are part of the research. (And just now in producing this little post I noticed that the name of Section 1.1 should be "PrincipAL Aim and Proposed Objectives.")

The proposal has now been formally submitted, and will move through the tedious pipes of the rigorous and unmerciful process of review and rejection. As my supervisor has noted, what happens is that several experts and non-experts, maybe among them a philosopher and dentist, hole up for several days (in my case Oct. 5-23), pouring over hundreds of proposals, each one getting progressively tired and angry by lack of clarity, confusing organization, worn out platitudes, typos, misuse of "principle" for "principal," and so on. The rule of thumb is to not give them any reason to dislike you. The best thing to do is make their job easy. Show them exactly what they are looking for and do it persuasively. Less important, but still helpful, is to have a good acronym. SPRINT is a good acronym because it is easy to say, and its connotations of speed fit with some aims in my proposed work. A bad acronym is VLDCMCAR (pronounced vldcmcar).

Word of my proposal's rejection should be sent December 2009. And my rejection letter to their rejection letter will soon follow. Regardless of the outcome, through this process I have learned an important skill that will be used again and again during my lifetime as a professor. If that doesn't work out, I can always use it in helping develop government health care proposals.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Most Tremendous Idea of the Year

Carla forgot to mention the most significant observation about Monsieur Bonthè. As he was discussing his fifteen-year involvement in the tea business in Paris, and the unfortunate set-backs involved with getting his website up and running, and the very late nights he was having in his laboratory downstairs, his tiredness gave way to a vigor as he said, "And last night, as I was laying on the couch, I had the most tremendous idea of the year!" As intellectuals, we like tremendous ideas (especially when the year is nearly over), so we pressed him. Was it web-ordering with personal delivery? Was it providing classes on the fine art of making and drinking tea? Was it making a Bonthè franchise through a partnering with Virgin Megastores? No.

"I have an idea for a smokey black tea! ... And that is all I am going to tell you right now."

M Bonthè, his brain occupied by tremendous ideas that shine as sparkling eyes in front, knows what makes life tick, what makes it go, what makes it worthwhile. Expanding his business, making money, increasing the visibility and value of the name, is all cursory next to such a profound experience steeped in tea. I want some of that smokey black tea.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tea, or Liquid Life

As many of you know, Bobby and I are big thé (French for tea, pronounced 'tay') drinkers. Though we do enjoy the coffee here in Paris (we won't say no to a café, unless it is later than 6pm), our true love is tea. When Bobby and I first started dating, I bought him some tea from the ritzy Parisian tea maker Mariage Frères. During the hot California summers, we would consume a gallon of iced tea every other day (not an exaggeration). Ever since our honeymoon to Ireland 4 years ago, we have started every morning with a nice cup (or two) of Barry's Tea, the tea every self-respecting Irish person drinks. We were usually able to purchase Barry's at Cost Plus World Imports in California. In Paris, there is an English food importer in the 11th arrondisement that stocks Barry's. As mentioned in a previous post, many of the little stores in Paris close for part of August. I sadly discovered that the same is true of the English importer's store. Down to 3 Barry's tea bags, Bobby and I decided to visit our local fine tea shop today (thankfully not closed for the month) to find a shot-term replacement. We would like to formally introduce you to Bonthés!

Today was not our first trip to Bonthés (a calembour, or play on words [which the French love], meaning both good tea and a bounty, or treasure). We discovered this little shop in April while walking back from Montmartre with our good friend Emily and since then have gone there every 3 or 4 weeks to replenish our stocks. About a 10 minute walk from our apartment, the shop sells not only excellent tea, but also delicious jams and confiture (many of which are tea flavored, like Earl Grey confiture or Jasmin confiture), tea accessories (we saw a picnic-ready tea pot today, which is a great idea!), and high quality sweets (green tea chocolate, anyone?). The store is owned by a very friendly and funny man, whom we call Mr. Bonthés (not his real name), and his trusty assistant, François. When you first walk into the shop, they always offers you a cup of freshly steeped tea and a little chocolate. I am a big fan of the lavender confiture (confiture is a non-fruit based jam), violette confiture, and fig jam. We also buy a lot of tea from the store. In fact, we no longer purchase tea from Mariage Frères, which has a huge selection but is overpriced and impersonal. Mr. Bonthés makes great suggestions and even makes fun of the way we make our homemade chai (the addition of cloves disgusts him, but I don't like the ginger he adds to his blend). We have probably purchased 15 different varieties of tea from him since April.

We walked in today, were offered the customary cup of tea, and told him of our situation. He suggested two different teas to replace Barry's and had us smell each kind. We ended up purchasing 250 grams of the Strong Breakfast Tea, which is a combination of Ceylon, English, and Kenyan teas. We also purchased 100 grams of Roi des Earl Grey (Kind of the Earl Grey) to drink in the afternoons. In addition to the tea, we bought fig jam (delicious on toast, or on warmed brie cheese) and jasmin confit (also great on toast, or spread on a warm crêpe). We ended up staying in the shop for over 40 minutes, chatting with Mr. Bonthés and François about their efforts to create a business website, expand the store, and their holiday plans.

One of the things we love the most about Paris is the little stores like this and the wonderful owners that run them. We have developed warm relationships with people like Françoise (the woman whom runs the café at the canteen), Mr. Bonthés and François, and the men that work at our local vegetable stand (post coming soon...). Wherever we end up living in the future, we hope to continue supporting small, local businesses.

Friday, August 7, 2009

State of this Post-doc Address

Fellow recent graduates, doctoral candidates, noobs, and Americans,

The state of this post-doc is strong. (5 minutes applause and standing ovations.) Five (more minutes of applause, and standing ovations from 314±1 people).

Five months now have elapsed, and during that time we have had trials, and we have had tribulations, and we have had lots and lots of tea and cafés and desserts of all stripes and flavours. (5 minutes applause, laughs all around, and standing ovations.)

It's time to take stock. It's time to see from where we've come, and to where we've yet to go. (2 minutes applause, standing ovations from 314±1 people. The rest are looking nervous. Time to get serious.)

During this time, I have had to live with rejection: of two conference papers, both were rejected. But to one I applied reviewer comments, and dashed it off to another conference! (Word of its fate arrives at the end of this month.) The other collects dust, sometimes disturbed by an occasional glance because I feel sorry for that little piece of research that can't.

In between these rejections, I have learned the art of proposal writing. I might even say that the single most significant part of my post-doc is learning the art of proposal writing. If you give a man some fish, he won't eat tomorrow; but if you teach a man to start each paragraph with a Bang! --- figuratively hitting a reviewer square between the eyes --- --- repeatedly --- to make the first page compel, nay, impel, neyther, propel, a reviewer to keep reading, to embolden key phrases to allow multiple levels of reading, to be unabashedly boastful of one's accomplishments and significance, to convey it all with a tone of utmost urgency that borders on rapture literature, and to make it all comprehensible and convincing to an non-expert while to an expert not appearing ignorant and naïve, then that man will be angry at the other man picking the fish bones from his teeth. But come December, when the other man will have no fish, you will have a piece of mail that says 1) Congratulations! Free fish; or 2) This year we received a higher number than usual of excellent proposals ...

Aside from conference paper rejections and proposal writing, I have been looking for what to do come January. For this reason I have given research seminars at TELECOM ParisTech, France, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain, Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, Berlin, Germany, and Queen Mary, University London, and Cambridge University, U.K. In the fall I hope to visit research centers in Rennes and Marseilles, France, Edinburgh, Scotland, Limerick and Dublin, Ireland, Haifa, Israel, Modena, Italy, Aalborg, Denmark, and Porto, Portugal.

Before coming to the great country or France, I applied to professorship positions at three (3) institutions in the North America: University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, University of California, Irvine, and University of California, San Diego. All have been rejected. (Scattered applause from 219±1 people).

Since coming to France, I've applied to professorship positions at four (4) other institutions, but this time all are in Europe. The only one I have heard from is University of Aalborg, at Copenhagen. My friends. They have invited me for an on-site interview at the end of this month! (2 minutes applause, standing ovations from 314±1 people; some other scattered applause).

Aside from all this excitement, I have proposed to write two books for a particular scientific publishing company --- one of these derived from my dissertation. The response from them has been positive! But we have yet to work out anything more formal.

The next five months, the remaining five months of this chapter in our collective academic experience, will certainly bring more trials, and more tribulations, and we hope more tea and cafés and desserts of all stripes and flavours. (5 minutes applause, laughs all around, and standing ovations.)

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Paris mothers, friends, and Mexican food

Aside from making funny music videos, Bobby and I have been getting back into our daily routine since coming back from our trip to Porto. The one hour time difference makes getting up in the morning difficult, though, truth be told, we always have trouble waking up in the mornings. Many of the little stores in our neighborhood are closed for the rest of the month since the owners are on vacation. The cheese shop, the boulangerie with good desserts, a nice fruit stand by Bobby's lab... all closed. During the month of August, most of France closes down as people go on vacations. Most people head to the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts. We were hoping to take a weekend trip to a nice surfing spot (Biarritz, by the Spanish border), but the August hotel rates are nearly double the normal rates! So while the rest of France vacations, we will hang out in Paris this month.

Bobby and I have been going to the University canteen together for lunch. We eat wonderful, delicious food for super cheap prices. Over the past week we have had salmon, tuna, pork, chicken, different cheeses (one of which was way too advanced for us. Yuck!), ratatouille, thyme-roasted potatoes, steamed white asparagus, and all sorts of other wonderful foods. The best part is, of course, the desserts. Between the two of us, we've eaten chocolate mousse, creme brulée with lavender, creme brulée with vanilla bean and bourbon, vanilla custard, citrus cake with raspberry sauce, and some crazy caramel-dried fruit-thingy. Yummy! After we eat our huge, cheap, awesome lunch, we head to the cafe to get a café to go. Françoise works behind the counter. She is a really nice French woman who remembers everyone's name. She always greets us with a "Bonjour Bob, Bonjour Carla! Ça va?" Though she may not know it, we consider her our French mother.

We had our good friends Kate and Ollivier over for dinner on Saturday. Bobby and I like to have themes for our meals. The first time Kate and Ollivier came over, it was Indian night. On Saturday, it was Thai night. We had Don Yum soup (the Thai name is actually Ton Yum, but we call it Don Yum since the recipe comes from our friend Wes, whose first name in Donald. Confused? Good.), Spicy Sesame Rice Noodles, and rice. We drank a chilled bottle of white muscato wine, which was perfect for the warm weather. Kate and Ollivier brought over dessert, which were huge meringues covered in chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles, which we had with some of the port Bobby and I bought in Porto.

Aside from our families and surf, the thing we miss the most about life in the States is Mexican food. It just doesn't exist in Paris (or most of Europe, for that matter). We've done our best to make it ourselves with ingredients we've received in care packages from our family and friends, but it's just not the same. We did try one 'Mexican' restaurant in Paris when we first moved here, and it's the reason we haven't tried any others in the last 5 months. We walked into Arriba, which was near our first apartment in the 11th arrondisement. The waiter said 'Bonsoir', to which I replied '¡Buenas noches!'. He gave me an odd look and seated us, which should have been our first clue that we were not going to eat real Mexican food. The second clue should have been the tabasco-like bottle on the table. I ordered a burrito which came shaped as a flat cube. Don't they know burritos are roundly-rectangular?! The 'salsa' on it was basically tomato sauce and the rice and beans were not at all Mexican. Oh well, at least we tried. We'll just have to make do French food until we visit the States. Now, if only I could make Wahoo's fish tacos...

Monday, August 3, 2009

I found it!

From LeBonCoin.com, the Craigslist of France, I have finally found what I have been looking for: a good button accordion! (And for cheap too.) In this video you can see the new accordion as Carla and I work on our variety show.