New years resolutions

Every year I try to set out a few resolutions to try to improve my life in some way.  Over the years, I’ve done pretty well at keeping them, and I’m usually pretty happy with the results.

This year, I thought I’d work out a few that are a bit more situational.

1.  Practice laughing at myself.
2.  Practice speaking in Danish, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
3.  Blog more often, and take more pictures.  Discuss more science!
4.  Be more assertive with my opinions.
5.  Be less patient. I’m way too patient.
6.  Read all the fine print.
7.  Be more open when communicating – pass on the details more efficiently.
8.  Make new friends – and don’t be afraid of rejection.
9.  Dont eat lunch at my desk.
10.  Spend less time in front of the computer at home.

I think that should do it for now.  I’m pretty certain that accomplishing even a few of those will make my time in Denmark more pleasant.

And on that note, the clock is about to hit midnight, so happy new years and all the best in 2012.

A better day.

In contrast to yesterday, today was pretty decent.  The weather cooperated, and we were able to get out and explore a bit. Of course, with the buses running as infrequently as they do, it took some planning, but we made it work.

Mostly, the cold weather has settled in, but for once, there wasn’t a cold 45 wind blowing – and by blowing, I mean a gale force wind off the Atlantic ocean.

In any case, it meant that we were able to get out and enjoy a few hour of walking downtown while the sun was out.  We found a bakery [Schweitzerbageriet] that makes great pastry and even better bread, managed to find my wife a pair of pants – although it seems like a danish women must be 6 feet tall, as it was a challenge to find a pair that weren’t 32×34.

In any case, our successful shopping also included a vacuum cleaner [On sale at Føtex], which we knew we’d need anyhow, as our old one wouldn’t work on Danish electricity.   Besides, we were getting tired of sweeping the whole house with the tiny dustpan and hand brush we bought a couple of days after arriving.

The picture below is the shopping street, Støget, I think, about 1:30pm, about 2 hours before the sun goes down.  However, in the winter, the sun is never all that far over the horizon to begin with, so you get a permanent twilight feel to everything.  But, without the wind, it was quite enjoyable at only -2C.

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In any case, with the city starting to get dark by 4:00, the new years crowd was already getting a head start.  In Canada, new years eve is for partying and hanging out with friends – but in Denmark, it seems to be solely about blowing up firecrackers. I walked the dog at 3:30, and our neighbors had already produced a wonderfully thick haze of smoke from setting off a large artillery regiment’s worth of gunpowder.  As I write this at 5:30, the whole city is covered in a dense fog, and any invading army would be completely inconspicuous through the constant sound of fireworks.  Seriously, the invasion of Baghdad in the 1990’s looks about the same as this.

Anyhow, to top off our evening, I’ve replaced our traditional clam chowder with Salmon chowder – and made a recipe with the few seasonings we have in the house so far…

And, as I write, I’m being told that I should hurry up so we can eat it…. so off I go to eat.

Happy New Years, everyone.

[Edit: The salmon chowder turned out REALLY well, and the bread we’d picked up was pretty awesome…. mmmmm. Recipe available upon request.]

Aarhus in December

I usually have a reason for posting stuff to my blog – sometimes I want people to read it, sometimes it’s just something I don’t want to forget and occasionally I just need an outlet to rant.

This post is just to capture a snapshot of where things are, because I’m really hoping I’ll be able to come back to this in few months and laugh at it, or at least put it into some bigger context that makes things ok.  Since I don’t maintain a private journal, I’m putting it here.  However, this will probably sound like one big whinge, so I’m not going to suggest you read it – and if you do so, it’s at your own peril.

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Moving to Denmark has been difficult, but mostly because my expectations were high and have repeatedly been dashed to pieces.  Where I didn’t have expectations, I think everything has gone along quite well, but what I really needed before coming was a reality check: You will have to start your entire life over again when moving to a new country.

I think our biggest problem was that we saw some of the city during the summer, enjoyed it, and thought we’d be able to enjoy it.  We had expectations that we’d be able to walk around in the streets, visit shops, and participate in the atmosphere of the city.  The reality is that the only house that was available to us was WAY out in the suburbs, leaving us in a tiny residential hamlet where everyone commutes.  Worst still, Canadians can’t get drivers licences in Denmark without a major struggle, leaving us without a reasonable access to transportation.  The bus system here runs once an hour for most of the day, and it’s a half hour bus ride to downtown.  Thus, we find ourselves limited to walking out for groceries in the evenings for something to do.  (I walk home from work every day at a competitive walking pace, and I’ve gotten it down to 33 minutes – downtown is about 20 minutes further.)

The house itself is also not what we expected – in addition to it’s location in a hamlet, it’s also expensive, leaving us with a lot less disposable income than we’d expected, meaning that we’re still living in grad student mode, but with a big house.  I have expectations that this will change in the future, but that won’t be for at least another month or so.  A lot of our cash reserves have gone to buying things that we just can’t live without, like lights for the house, food for the cat and dog and such, which has made things somewhat tight, as well.  No eating out in Denmark for us, yet.

Our stuff also hasn’t arrived, although I just received word that it is expected to arrive in the city on January 19th, which is only a few weeks away.  That, at least, is encouraging.  But, that means we still have 3 more weeks of sitting in a nearly empty house – we’ve shut off three of the four rooms so it echoes a little less when we talk. (I would like to again emphasize that I am not ungrateful for what we have been given by the company to help us until our stuff arrives – but it’s minimal, and a far cry from having your own possessions.  A little bit of furniture is a huge help, but doesn’t really fill a house.)

And then, there was Christmas.  This year’s christmas was a disaster for us – again, because of unmet expectations.  We had been told before we moved that we’d been invited for christmas by some other expats and that we’d have some company over the holidays, however that never occurred, leaving us on our own.  Added to that, I also found out I’d have to work over the holiday break and that no time off would be given in exchange for Christmas eve and Christmas day falling on a weekend, which made this past week pretty miserable.  Thus, every hour that things were open for the past week, I was at work, and any time I had to go exploring in the city fell on the three days where the entire city shuts down. (And I mean entire city – even the convenience stores shut down for the three days of Christmas.)

Needless to say, we didn’t get out much (although we did find the art gallery was open), and so we mostly spent our holiday weekend at home in an empty house, desperately trying to come up with stuff to do.

To compound the expectation problem, I’d also been told, upon arrival, that the wonderful holidays that Danish employers give (nearly 6 weeks of holiday per year) actually don’t apply to employees in their first year.  I have 48 more weeks of slogging through before I can get my first vacation.

Furthermore, what we’d been told about Denmark and Christmas turned out to be absolutely correct:  Danish people are all into cozy-ness (hygge), which I had interpreted to be about friends and family: the equivalent to a Newfoundland kitchen party.  Unfortunately, what I missed was that it’s mainly about family and close friends – and we just haven’t been here long enough to make any of those. We haven’t earned our hygge yet.

Part of that stems from the language barrier.  My expectation was that it wouldn’t be a problem to communicate in English here – and for the most part it’s not.  94% of Danes (or some equally high number) can speak English, which means you can get away with not speaking Danish for a while.  However, asking people to speak in English all the time seems to be too much.  The work environment, despite promises that it would be in English, devolves into Danish much of the time, whenever I’m not being addressed directly or not in an official meeting.  Again, expectations dashed.

I hardly expect a whole country to shift languages to accommodate me, but it’s difficult – and I now fully appreciate what other people have said in their blogs:  I appreciate when other people make the effort to chat with me in English, but I recognize that it is an effort… conversations are slower, people don’t make jokes in English, and I consequently find myself just shutting everything out and ignoring whatever is going on around me because it’s futile to try learning a language by osmosis while trying to be productive at the same time.

Worse still, there are times when English just isn’t available.  If you call the doctors office, you get a recorded message in Danish. (It says “just stay on the line and we’ll get to you as soon as possible”, but I had to ask a Dane to translate it for me.)  If you call a store, you get a menu of options – in Danish. (“Press 4 for the animal food department”)  Simple tasks become inordinately difficult, and I find myself dreading some of the simple chores.

And, of course, all of those chores are being done in in the dark, because lets not forget that sunrise and sunset in Aarhus in December are about 9am and 3:30pm – which has been accompanied by frequent (several times daily) wind and rain storms.

Add that to the steep learning curves of starting a new job and trying to finish my thesis remotely, and this has become a recipe for depression and despair.

I don’t really expect the arrival of my stuff to make a big dent in the difficulty of moving to a new country, but it will change the feeling that I’m living in a hotel in the suburbs.  At least I’ll be able to pull out my camera and take pictures, or to hop on my bike and ride out to pick something up from the store, or even just to have my kitchen supplies so I can cook something decent.

Yes, I know, I’ve only given the bad, and not the good.  There are things working out in my favour: I have a cool phone to play with, I’ve met some interesting people, I love the projects I’ll be working on at work, and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve been able to make in written Danish on my own.  And, google translate’s existence has saved my life a few times.  Not everything here is bad… but the struggle goes on, and sometimes that’s just what you need to rant about.

Hindsight is 20/20…  but as they say, I’ve made my bed, and now I’ve got to lie in it.

Busses don’t run this week

I had one of those experiences today.   You know where you’re just so frustrated that you just can’t stop what you’re doing and think things through.

The busses this week shifted to a Saturday schedule, ’cause apparently not many people work this week.  Alas, I am working, so I had to find my way in.

First, the bus I usually catch never arrived, so I walked down to another stop where I knew I could catch a different bus that would take me downtown.  I saw that bus go by while I was still too far away to run for it.

I then thought I’d try for another bus that runs more frequently, about a km away.  I missed that bus while trying to find the stop.  At that point, the driving rain stopped, so I could pull out my phone and look up the schedule… 25 minutes till the next bus, and a 35 minute walk from work, I just decided to hike it in.

Here’s where the stubbornnes kicked in.

The road took me through a bunch of fields, zigzaging through them, which would just add time to my already miserable commute, so I decided to cut across in a straight line.

Halfway through, I realised what an idiot I was, and all I could think to do was take a picture to show the world.  Here they are, facing forward and backwards:

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Yep.  A walk I can normally do in 40 minutes took nearly an hour and 15.  I should have just given up and walked in directly. 

Doh!

Art museum of Aarhus

Unfortunately, not much is open on Boxing day in Aarhus.  It shows up on my calendar as juledag #3, and I’ve been told its a holiday, so my wife and I spent part of the afternoon at the art museum of Aarhus.  Since my new phone takes pictures, I thought I’d share a few.

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The first is the staircase inside the entrance, which is one of the dominant features of the museum.

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One of the galleries was really quite cool, showing the work of someone who’s name I unfortunately can’t remember. (I’ll look it up later. EDIT: It’s Olafur Eliasson). A lot of it was immersing you in colours, including a room that was so full of fog that you couldn’t see two feet in front of you.  The mist in the air was then converted to pure colour with strong lights and filters.  All I could think of was that Martin Kryzwinski would have given an arm to have been there. Colour pallets galore!

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We also saw the famous rainbow gallery on the roof of the museum. My picture doesn’t really do it justice.

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There was also this display that was hooked up th an observatory somewhere. Every time a star was observed to die somewhere in the universe, it would light up. It was lighting up a few times a second.  Wow. Powerful imagery.

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And, who could forget the wall of flattened umbrellas. I did spot a KPMG umbrella in there, which was amusing.

Anyhow, it was a neat way to spend a few hours, but ultimately, it’s a nice museum, but not enough to keep me there for more than a small part of the day.

We ended our visit with a pastry at the galley cafe, and then a long walk home to work it off.

Christmas Day Walk

Nothing is open in Aarhus, today. Nothing at all.  So, for something to do, my wife and I went for a walk along a trail near our house.  We saw about 15 people on our walk, which makes that the most people we’ve ever seen out in our neighborhood on a single outing, outside of the grocery store.

In any case, the walk was pleasant, and we walked by what looked like a dog agility course, so maybe it wasn’t a bad way to spend an intensely quiet Xmas day.

I thought I’d share a quick snapshot I took with my phone.

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Welcome to my neighborhood.

Snoring Dogs

I’m testing out my newfound ability to post to my blog from my phone. To start, l thought that I’d post a picture of a sign I pass by every day on the way home that always tickles my funnybone. In Danish, the text means dogs must be on leashes, but I can’t help imagining that its a warning against snoring dogs… The sign is cute, either way.

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New spam for breakfast

I received an interesting piece of spam this morning. It came among the usual flurry of easily filtered spam, which is composed mainly of people trying to do SEO (search engine optimization) to get their hits up at the top of the search engine results.   That is to say, it mostly consists of a bogus comment and a link to something like an online pharmacy.

This morning, the link was a surprise…  check it out:

Author : Jaelyn (IP: 173.230.129.176 , li169-176.members.linode.com)
E-mail : www.droman827@misterpaws.net
URL    : http://www.bing.com/
Whois  : http://whois.arin.net/rest/ip/173.230.129.176
Comment: I'm not easily irpemssed but you've done it with that posting.

You’ll notice the usual typo in the comment, which is supposed to help it get past the filters, which it did in this case, but more surprisingly, the IP actually traces back to someone’s web page – just a random blog. My guess is that the computer hosting that blog has a virus which is pumping out the spam.

The most unusual thing about this is that it’s actually promoting bing.com,

  1. the web site it’s promoting is bing.com.
  2. If it is a virus promoting it, it’s almost guaranteed to be running on a Microsoft computer.

If I were into conspiracy theories, I’d wonder if Microsoft has now taken to paying virus creators to promote it’s web site using viruses that target Microsoft computers.

Yeeeesh.  Even Microsoft couldn’t sink that low…  but really, I would like to know who is behind this campaign.  Promoting bing through spam comments is already pretty despicable – but not something I’d put beyond Microsoft.

Denmark, a new leaf

Denmark has started growing on me a bit.

First, I got my magic CPR number this weekend – Yes, Denmark has post on Saturdays!  Having this number now means that I can begin life in this country: cell phones, bank accounts, health care, even Danish language lessons are now available!

Second, as of today, I now have an internet connection at home, so I can return to blogging, surfing the web, using google translate and emailing.  Even skype.  (Yes, I now have a business skype account. If you’d like to skype with me, let me know.  I certainly don’t know anyone in Denmark (out side of work, of course) to skype with, yet…)

Also, I found out about the Danish system that allows companies to buy phones/computers for their employees using before tax deductions…  it’s somewhat more complex than that, but it works well.  Of course, it means that the phone is a valid work phone, but that’s ok. I don’t think I’ll be on call anytime soon.

The wind this week finally died down a bit, and we’ve had a few sunny days.  Sunny winter days are something that brings back childhood memories, so that’s been a nice change.  Most amazingly, the clear days have also brought clear evenings – and the lack of serious light pollution in Aarhus means that you can see the stars… and there are so many more here than there were in Vancouver!  Walking with the dog in the evening has turned into a bit of a star gazing walk instead. (The dog doesn’t seem to mind, really… especially now that we’ve managed to find some dog food for her, imported from Canada, as it happens.)

Finally, we’ve also discovered a few grocery stores that we like, with Lidl being our favorite.  While Denmark doesn’t have anywhere near the variety of fruits and veggies, or even seasonings that we’re used to, we’ve found enough ingredients to start making things we like.  We even made a pretty successful pizza from scratch this evening, and it wasn’t too bad.  (Hint: there are two Chinese grocery stores downtown by the train station that have some of the ingredients for making Asian food, and lidl has a fair number of raw ingredients that are decent.)

Between our new ikea wardrobe, and the nearly installed washing machine, things have started looking up.  It’s only 6-7 more weeks till our furniture arrives.

I don’t think we were really prepared for the first two weeks, with all the challenges of moving somewhere new, but  we’re finally starting to find a routine again.  Of course, it’s just in time for the disruption of spending xmas in a new country.  Go figure. (-:

 

Dear Affymetrix: You Suck.

[EDIT: In case it’s not obvious, I’ve written the title to get the attention of the Affymetrix, as I don’t think they’ve read the contents of my blog posts, despite their picking me as a poster boy for their propaganda – not because I think they actually suck…]

It has come to my attention that the people at Affymetrix have taken to using a screen shot of my blog to argue that bloggers have prematurely called for the death of microarrays – and their proof to the contrary is that they’re still around.

Affymetrix, you may have noticed that my title for this blog is strongly worded – and that’s because I don’t think you’ve bothered to read the actual posts.  In fact, there are two of them:

My entire argument revolves around the fact that sequencing is getting cheaper – and thus, the concept of doing targeted sequencing via a platform for which sequencing costs are NOT getting cheaper is a ridiculous concept in the long run.  Furthermore, I didn’t say that arrays should disappear entirely, but rather that they should just be dropped for cutting edge research.

There are a few exceptions for areas where you willfully want to blind yourself: Diagnostics is probably the most prominent, and is likely a growing sector in to which Affymetrix will be able to expand and grow.

Thus, Affymetrix, your continued existence is not a counter-argument.

In fact, your continued success is also not a counter argument.

There will always be a place for microarrays, but that place is not going to be cutting edge research.  Really, how long do you think exon capture experiments are going to last, when the cost of 30X WGS hits $500?

Seriously, Affymetrix, if you’re going to ridicule me for my opinions, take the time to read what my opinions are.

And, by the way, Affymetrix, have you seen this picture? (Thanks Daniel!)

By the way, if anyone knows the cost per base of sequencing for an Affymetrix chip, obtaining the same dynamic range and error profile as an Illumina platform run, I would love to know that number.