Thursday, 8 January 2009

Childhood Dreams

Last year I heard about Randy Pausch, his fate and his Last Lecture. I was intrigued and set the book on my list of things to buy. On Christmas, I got it from two people who are dear to me. I read it during the Christmas holidays and watched the video.

I don't want to write about Randy Pausch other than that I'm very grateful for his lecture; a lot has been written already and he is a testimony of himself anyway. His talk is about achieving ones childhood dreams and it made me thinking about mine.

I could actually remember the following:
  • Press buttons or switches (I was very little then)
  • Learn to dive
  • Become a (Micro)biologist
  • Perform music in front of an audience
  • Being at ease with the English language
  • Understand the lyrics of French chansonniers
These were the dreams - as opposed to resolutions like "never getting fat" or "living consciously". (Still I'm amazed in retrospect that I made these quite early on.) As for the dreams, I am surprised to see how much of them got fulfilled.

I studied engineering and had a chance to press a lot of buttons and turned a lot of switches. Since my early childhood it never ceases to amaze me that a tiny movement of my fingers can have really dramatic effects. Today, I make my living by pressing buttons probably thousands of times a day - on the keyboard of my PC - and I still enjoy that!

I remember that I went to shops to get catalogues of diving equipment. In these days, diving was quite an exceptional sport, so they weren't glossy brochures but rather very technical booklets. I studied them trying to make my choice for a dream equipment.

About ten years ago, I wanted to go on a holiday. Being single, I didn't want to hang out on a beach but do something actively. For some reason, I remembered this old dream of mine and checked out diving schools in the Mediterranean. They existed in abundance. And a course was affordable for me. So off I went - and have had great diving experiences since then.
(I had a panic attack during one of the lessons, though, and a hard time to pass it. I did, but still going diving always makes me a little nervous before I actually descend - then I'm cool. Sometimes fulfilling a childhood dream apparently has to do with facing an adversity which is oneself.)

As a teenager, I found small animals fascinating. One year I bred newts; it was quite an experience. But then I went for the even smaller stuff: I needed a microscope. So I got one of these cheap Japanese ones with plastic lenses - but that was OK for me. My decision was clear: I had to become a Microbiologist!
When I finished school, I still wanted to do that. However, job expectations for Biologists looked grim, so - unconsciously - I went for the other dream: I studied engineering and computer science. Later, I moved to another country and was determined to attend a post graduate course to combine IT with Biology. Unfortunately at that time, no diploma of other countries were accepted, not even a course. So I decided to go for the real thing (as for the job opportunities, I thought I could always work in IT if necessary). I applied at the University to study Biology - and it worked; it was a bit of a battle but I got in - and I loved every single lecture of it (well, not absolutely all of them but in the other cases this was due to the prof, not the subject). I didn't get to work as a Microbiologist, though, as this was not a special field at my university. Again, I went for the even smaller stuff: molecules. It gave me the unforgettable experience to work in Molecular Genetics for nearly a decade.

Playing music before audiences is a dream I never achieved. I did play guitar (and later on Saxophone) and even played among friends a little but never as a performance. Still it motivated me to learn playing these instruments. (And who knows? As they say: it is never too late for a happy childhood...)

I struggled hard to finish school with good grades in English. It was the only subject I was really committed to do that. In all the other subjects, passing with whatever grade was just fine for me. (This only changed when I studied Biology: here I wanted to get good grades in all subjects - at least in the second half of my studies.) I liked to read lyrics of pop songs I listened to and got some feeling for the language - but no practice. Later, when I was working in a scientific environment, English was the language of the day, intensified by having English speaking friends. So English really more and more became my second language and I enjoyed it. (That's one reason I'm writing this blog in English, not only because I prefer to have it readable on an international level, but also because I think that English is more adequate for this - even if it doesn't turn out perfect; and I like trying and learning).

In the course of my academic career, I spent three years in France. In the beginning I could hardly utter a French sentence (having only attended a short French course at school). In France, they let you speak English for a week or two and then it's - en francais. So I had to learn French - which I also enjoyed. By this I could also live my life in France more fully as if I only went through it like a passing tourist.
And it helped me achieving another childhood dream. This really hit me when years later I was sitting in a train listening to one of my favourite Jaques Brel chansons (Ces gens-là) on my iPod. Reading the lyrics while he sang, I got goose pimples when I realised that I could easily understand the song and was at the same time blown away by the intensity of Brel's singing.

This is quite a long post already but it requires a last paragraph: As I have learned (not only from Randy Pausch), it is important to express ones gratitude. So this goes to my parents: we have often disagreed (even seriously) but they brought me up in a way that eventually allowed me to achieve these (and other) things by using the skills of brain and hand they gave me the opportunity to develop. Of course I contributed myself, too, but I also was lucky and I got help. For all this I am eternally grateful.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Being cool

I am not cool. Never was. Of course, in some ways I would like to be. But it never works. I am at ease and convincing when I am the way I am. This is probably true for all people but some still have the ability to cover things up. I find that if I try to do this, I get very soon very exhausted - and on people's nerves.

The same is true for the way I'm writing. I have some landmarks for this. Once, when I read in Metrodad's blog "...In the same manner that many completely humorless people (especially bloggers) think they're hysterically funny..." - I felt trapped. This feeling of being trapped reminded me that I am always tempted to write from my heart and to try to achieve something with it. Being funny for example. Or smart. Actually it's not even about being smart or funny, it's about trying to make others think and believe that I'm smart and funny. This kind of Impression Management is part of my automatic mode. I wish it became controllable...

Thursday, 25 September 2008


Music is my great love, always has been. So I'm going to mention some of my favourites here from time to time.

Recently, Black Hockey Jesus played a best & worst game on his blog (which, sadly, doesn't exist anymore), asking for the best and worst song "in the history of civilisation". (Music lovers are like this - always excessive when it comes to the appreciation of music.)
Of course I was tempted to play and in that moment (because there are so many songs that might go for a "best" that this could only be a transient thing) I thought of Radiohead and Thom Yorke finally deciding for The Clock.

Radiohead has fascinated me since OK Computer came out in 1997. I like their music and the weltschmerz expressed by Thom Yorke's voice touches me very deeply. It must have some weird connection to that sea of sadness within me that I'm sometimes in touch with. When I am in a firm mental state (and I'm grateful to say that this happens a lot), I can even enjoy this connection. It is safe.
(If I'm not, I'd rather not listen to most of the music I like...)

"People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”
Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

As I was looking for this citation in the internet (I was too lazy typing it from the book), I found it in an article about - Radiohead.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


This is not supposed to be a blog about politics but politics is a part of life, right? At least it is when you care about who can influence your life as a citizen.
Just a few thoughts about a very small and a very large country.

Right now I am watching two national elections approaching and I am feeling a bit powerless as I'm not allowed to vote in either of them: Austria, where I live, and the U.S.
In both countries, the resulting consequences of these elections will be very noticeable. It does make a difference whether a far-right wing party gets about 20% of the votes even if it will not be part of the government, which remains to be seen. And it does make a difference whether the U.S. will continue an outrageously inhuman policy and, besides many other effects, continue to move further away from Europe, or whether the U.S. starts (and it would only be a start) to turn its policy into a different direction.

This is in response to the argument that nowadays it doesn't really matter which party is the recipient of your vote as governments don't have much scope in putting their ideologies into reality because they have to respond to global realities, mostly economic.

I used to think that, too. However, in Austria one could clearly observe a decay in political morality when the Conservatives (in a fit of power madness) finally managed to beat the Social Democrats, who had become much too complacent, with the help of the far-right wing party in 1999. This coalition crumbled to pieces a couple of years later but Austria still suffers from the consequences.

Need I give examples of the effect of the Bush government on the U.S. or on the world? It suffices to say that they added paranoia to the American Way of Life. In my view that is even worse than the bloodshed in Iraq, which was bad enough.
Fear is the number one nutrient for fascism. For a government to toy with that, to hazard with the consequences to push some petty (mostly economic) interests there is no excuse.

So it does make a difference.

Being forced to stay silent in a democratic sense, I can only hope that people in both countries wake up, listen and vote...

Saturday, 23 August 2008


I started to dive into the world of blogging only recently (in the beginning of 2008, to be more precise) and found it fascinating. There have been a number of bloggers who certainly had some influence and made me want to finally start blogging myself. (I'm going to mention them for sure; as for now, see the respective entry on the right.)
Actually I wanted to write since a long time. Being a pensive person, that's probably what you want, I don't know. You have to unload some of that stuff at times and it might even be entertaining for others. However, so far the real world kept me from writing as I have (and always had) a job which is time and energy consuming. So sitting down at the end of an active but also demanding day and getting started on, say, a short story or something (which would most probably never be published anyway) wasn't very motivating.

And then came the blogs.

Of course they already have been around for a while but only entered my life this year when I started a blog of my own (which is about a very defined project and therefore won't have anything to do with this blog at all). While sometimes pushing on the "Next Blog>" button, I came upon - well, a lot of not very interesting sites, but I also stumbled upon a blog or two that blew me away. And these bloggers mentioned other blogs of matching quality. (Actually the credit of this initiation goes to the writer of the Bean Chronicles - thank you bean-mom!) Soon I realised that there lies a treasure of written thoughts in the virtual that lured me away from sleep and other rather vital occupations.

Next thing, I wanted to be part of this. I wanted to write (and, obviously, to be read - if possible not only by myself). And maybe someone would even post a comment, who knows?

So, this is a trial to contribute my share to the world of blogging. Let's see what's going to be in it...