Leaving the "village" Santa Barbara behind me I'm visiting Los Angeles and New York during the winter break. Suddenly, sky scrapers, the metro and many more people are back in my life; it takes 1.5 hours to get with public transportation from the main airport in LA to the Walk of Fame. However, both locations are kind of "in the city center". Many friends told me that I would not like LA because it's not an actual city, but a bunch of clustered smaller towns or maybe not even towns, but living areas.

Walk of Fame in LA.
  The public transportation system itself worked well for us, but the people on the bus and in the metro were sometimes a bit "weird". Many were talking to themselves (I have to admit, sometimes it was hard to tell if they were speaking to their headset or not). Or shouting at other people, making noises and so on. I definitely don't want to be in the metro alone at night. Nevertheless, a one-day-ticket for the metro is 7$ which is really cheap compared to other large cities (Paris, ...). But apparently everybody who can effort a car does so and so the cities are unbelievable crowded (pedestrians are a rare species, don't even think of cyclists...).

I've just arrived in NY and my first impression is overwhelming - it's just unfortunate for LA that I go here directly afterwards...



Winter in Santa Barbara

There are not many clouds in Santa Barbara most of the time, but now it's "winter" and "bad weather" appears. So we get clouds and temperatures below 10°C during the night. However, there's a huge advantage of clouds when it comes to sunsets (and of course some rain after a long drought is pleasant):

(I was asked if I use photoshop or anything else... but I didn't alter the image at all)

More images are at "Impressions".


Christmas tree at 20°C

The farmer's market in Goleta had an additional feature today: A huge, glittering Christmas tree! Some people were dressed up as Santa Claus with his angels and you could stop by for a photo with them. 

In addition to that, you can buy a lot of Christmas tree decorations for a reduced price at a decoration store next door:


The ugliest Christmas sweater alive

There's everything you can imagine decorated with the logo of my university here - pillow cases, pink Christmas tree balls (with a Hello-Kitty-symbol as well!), a lot of different clothing, drinking bottles of all kinds and sizes - and of course (we can't miss it, we're in the US!) Christmas sweaters:

I could just resist to buy one ;) The other day I went to buy clothes as well and there were even more sweaters in the same style. It's okay, since I had seen the video which is circulating on facebook which seems to be some kind of competition to wear the ugliest Christmas sweater you can find and dance to some Christmas music (sometimes accompanied by various family members with their favorite unfashionable sweater).


Group meeting

Today I presented my recent research results at our weekly group meeting. Usually we talk and discuss the work we did, but sometimes we chat about a paper if it's somebody's turn, but there are no new significant topics. I am also a member of another group which is so small that we don't present in turns every week, but we have visitors and meet with other groups.

Since the professor I work for, is right now not in California, we have a skype conference and two laptops (one for skype and one for the presentation).

The presentation today went well, I think, but I didn't find the remote control to switch on the projector, so I climbed on the table to turn it on manually ;) But later it turned out that there is no remote control and the control is built into the wall...


My love-hate-relationship to science

Honestly, I really started disliking the average image shape I had to process with the program Matlab for my current research project. I stared at my laptop screen 24/7 as it felt like. And the data was noisy and it looked like we were not getting anywhere.

But now! We tuned the algorithm and we believe that we can "see" the cortical actin concentration along the cell outline (that's kind of seeing where the "muscle" of the cell on the membrane is more active - we hope to show that). The reason why this is actually happening is not too simple and we're still thinking about it, but first of all, here's some  data:

Cortical actin concntration along a "master cell" under confinement (our average cell "to rule them all" ;)).


Ginger bread 2.0

A little bit more complicated than just attending the graduate housing ginger bread house building party is: making ginger bread with a ready mixture like this:

Well, it was not too easy, because we ended up with a very brittle dough so we added the tenfold amount of water ;) (just one order of magnitude, shouldn't matter too much ;)). So we couldn't make any cutting of shapes any more, but we had one huge ginger bread instead:

It was still stable enough that we could have build a house, but it was so nice, warm and ready, that we just started enjoying it. The next level will be actual self-made ginger bread, but I will have to translate the ingredients or that and it's not too common to bake huge amounts of ginger bread in the US.


Finals done!

At the UCSB we live in a quarter system, i.e. there are no semester as most German universities structure their academic year, but quarters the year is divided into. This week was the last week of the fall quarter, so the final examinations were written. But unlike most German examinations, the graduate courses have a "take-home-final", so you get for example 24h for this homework. There's nearly no written 2-3h examination any more (that's the "undergraduate level of testing").

Comparison of the image of a cell nucleus once with a confocal microscope (left) and once including light form all heights (right). wikipedia

However, somehow I was lucky, and had "only" two presentations and one report to turn in. That was even the week before the finals' week :) So I've got more time to focus on research and next week I will get training on the confocal microscope which is a vital instrument in Biophysics: You can travel through your sample and focus on "slices". Often this microscope is combined with a fluorescent microscope so that only certain, dyed parts are illuminated and light from other slices (which are not in focus) is not included in the image.



Since we were lacking real "Lebkuchen" (or ginger bread) we took honey crackers to build a "Lebkuchen"-House. It was super fun, but the house didn't survive too long... But for our architecture we won a 5$ Starbucks gift card, yay! And if we want to build another one there are actually sets you can purchase at the supermarket (you might run into real Lebkuchen and not our pseudo-Lebkuchen substitute).


Tuition fees

Once upon a time, there were tuition fees in some counties in Germany and it was a huge debate and I can remember a lot of demonstrations until the fees were abandoned - yearly fees of about 1300 $. And in the US so many people pay the tenfold or even hundredfold amount per year! Most students start borrowing money on student loans so that after four years of undergraduate studies you've already collected a lot of debts to pay back. But imagine, you've started studying for some time and realize you are not going to make it or something happens and you don't graduate - there's still this huge amount of money left. As far as I got it, that will cause a different pressure on you to finally graduate. (Unlike in Germany where you "just" can skip or switch the subject - one year or even more does not matter too much.)

However, there's of course a movement against the fees, called the "Million Student March" - and again against this movements there are the really conservative voices, e.g.
Why I stand against the Million Student March
It's really fun to read ;)


Santa Monica

Today I've been to a Fulbright Lunch which was attended by a lot of international Fulbright scholars (not only students, but also professors and their families, postdocs,...). It took place in Santa Monica at a house on one of the hills from which you have got a beautiful view on the ocean and LA! Every scholar also brought a national dish from their country. It was super interesting and awesome!
Here are more pictures: http://masterusa-lotta.blogspot.de/p/impressions.html


Yosemite stories (1)

"Oh my goooosh, snooooow!!" - when we came close to Yosemite (after about 871429 hours of bus drive) we saw a not negligible amount of snow in the forest around us! It seemed to be another planet, not California. There were just some cabins around, no large buildings, no supermarket... and no signal! We had free wireless Internet access at our hostel, but I am not sure if Internet is the most important thing if you go hiking ;) I was more worried about not being able to call someone if any accident happened.

[The facts: The International Students Association of the UCSB organized a trip to the Yosemite National Park for four days leaving on Thanksgiving morning (Thursday), then there are two days of hiking in Yosemite and one day for driving back.]

After exploring and understanding the hostel (do not let children sleep on the upper bunk bed - I'll sleep at the bottom ;) ) we had a huge Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday. It seems to be that you are not supposed to be able to stand up easily afterwards. Even for vegetarians there was a lot. The dessert would have been a meal for itself (pumpkin pie, apple pie, cream).

But you should have some space for "S'mores" afterwards at the campfire! Marshmallows are melted on a wooden stick just above the fire and then stuck between two crackers and chocolate. The name "S'mores" = "I want some more" is kind of understandable ;) (If you're not too tired by the bus ride and maybe didn't have Thanksgiving Dinner beforehand)

The next morning started with an awesome warm breakfast  (no muffin & coffee-style at all!) - that's probably the latest point where everybody stopped thinking about calories. But then again - 1.5 h bus tour to the hiking path in Yosemte NP.

And it was absolutely worth it! We started with the small hike and saw some beautiful nice small stream, a huge amount of snow and the motive for the characteristic Mac desktop background! At the "top" of the path we took there was a smaller, short path which led to another water fall and these falls go a few hundred of meters downwards...

This was all so impressive that we finally concluded that the modern digital technologies are so advanced that everything still seemed real.


Yosemite (2)

... and there'll be a Yosemite (3) with all exciting stories, but for now, let's start with some more photos: http://masterusa-lotta.blogspot.de/p/impressions.html