Of the many European countries I have visited whilst living in the UK, Italy and France by far have had the best food (you can guess which has the worst….). Here are three of my favorite restaurants I have had the pleasure of dining at when visiting Italy. One in Roma, one in Venice, and one in Northern Italy near Aosta. They are all rustic and frequented by locals; great places to go to get a taste of authentic Italian cuisine away from all the damn American tourists (well mostly)!

La Vrille (http://www.lavrille.it/) near Aosta, Italy near the Italian Alps.

This is a very welcoming family run farmhouse located in the Italian Alps. We recently had the most amazing xmas dinner here. It was an 8 course, 3.5 hour meal accompanied by wine made from the local vineyard. The food was sophisticated, yet comforting, showcasing a mix of Italian and French cooking styles (as would be expected so close to the border of France!). Despite the 8 well presented courses, the atmosphere was downright homey…homey. To top things off, the chef (who didn’t speak of lick of English!) came to visit each of the 5 tables at the end of the meal that was served by her two children. Reservations are a must!

 

Alla Vedova (http://www.in-venice.com/restaurant/ca-doro-alla-vedova/) in Venice, Italy

I first visited this restaurant over 10 years ago when I went on a 5 week backpacking trip through Europe following my college/university graduation. At the time it was not very well known to tourists, and I had my first, and only, artichoke lasagna that was delicious. Since then I’ve been back and it has clearly made it onto the radar of many American tourists. Nonetheless, my squid ink linguine was great, and the service still friendly (if not a bit rushed). Just don’t ask for parmasean cheese on your seafood dishes!

 

Ristorante La Moretta (Via Monserrato, 158) in Roma, Italy

This is a nice, simple restaurant with decent food. It is a welcome break away from the craziness of the areas run over by tourists in Rome. I had a wonderful spaghetti alla vongole (spaghetti with clams) here, but you can also get pizza and other dishes (although I cannot speak for how good they are). The prices aren’t exorbitant either, and the staff is exactly what you’d expect in a traditional Italian restaurant (i.e, relaxed about service…welcome to Europe!). 

 

That’s it…great choices for simple yet delicious dining. Any other suggestions for great, unpretentious, European dining leave below…I’m always on the hunt for simplicity elevated…

Advertisements

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for awhile in response to an article from the NYTs back in November and a post from Reaction Norm. I’m a little late to the game, but the issues haven’t changed in the past month and a half…

By way of prologue, I’ve always wanted to have children and plan to do so once my partner and I move back to the good ole’ US of A. It’s never really been a serious question for either of us. And until recently I had always figured we’d have two kids, but lately after reading up a bit more on demographics I think 3-4 is more appropriate (although my wife thinks I’m nuts, but read the analysis below and see what you think…she may very well be right!)

So the argument for not having children whilst married seems to be, in part, a financial one. Children are expensive, retirement is expensive, so let’s put money towards an ideal retirement instead of having kids. The other primary argument is with respect to time. Kids take a lot of time, careers and hobbies take a lot of time, I (and my spouse) want a career and hobbies (and the money to enjoy those hobbies) so forget the kids let’s just focus on ourselves.

The other offhanded sort of reason for not having children is: “And if we decide against [having children], it will partly be out of concern for the welfare of others. My husband in particular worries that creating more human lives strains an already overtaxed planet.” (From the NYT article).

Yea, well that’s all well and good for trying to make oneself feel better about the decision (one has to wonder why couples deciding not to have children feel they need to provide a litany of reasons to mollify their apparent feelings of guilt). However, the truth of the matter is you wouldn’t be having the 7 billionth child in some 3rd world country, but in a 1st world country. And there are major demographic issues in all 1st world countries that threaten the stability and economic well being of those countries and the ability of the countries to provide support for an ageing population (e.g, Japan is a worst case scenario!).

With respect to the USA, we’ve always thought of ourselves immune to the demographic problems that are facing countries such as Italy and Japan due to massive amounts of immigration. However, it has become evident over the past 5 years that US demographics are becoming more European like. Whilst a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is required to maintain a constant population (not even a growing one!), the fertility rate in the US has dropped to 1.9 and there is a fear we will head to a European-like 1.4-1.6.

So what’s the big deal if the US starts to look like Europe fertility wise? The problem is that with a declining population and an increase in the number of retirees (read baby boomers) that live longer (thanks biomedical research!), an increasing number of tax paying workers are required to support the retired through social security and medicare (it’s discussed in a bit more depth here if you’re interested). This demographic time bomb is set to hobble the economies of the European Union (see e.g, Italy, Japan and Spain for a prelude). Is this the future we want for all of Europe or the USA? What would be the global effect of the US economy losing its dynamism because there’s not enough workers to support an aging population? You think our current economic situation is bad? You just have to look to parts of Europe or Japan to see how much worse it can get if left alone. And the scale would be much grander in the US due to the size of the US economy and our role in security (for better or worse) throughout the world.

Thus, while your life may be more enjoyable and you may make it further in your career more easily by not having children (but seriously, who are you kidding, are you some fucking wonder dynamo that is needed to save the world? Even Einstein had children, one before he published his groundbreaking special relativity shiznit in 1905). The decision not to have children is selfish (i.e, by definition thinking only of oneself and not others e.g, your country and all the elderly that require support) and unpatriotic; and collectively it is undermining the economic health and security of your country (if it’s a 1st world country) and the world (assuming you think it’s a good thing that the west/US are/is the dominant military power, by no way a forgone conclusion!).

How’s that for some over dramatic shit!

So get in the sack and start making babies already!

Apparently after being a postdoc for just about 2 years I’m distinguished enough to be invited to speak at an eminent international conference….unfortunately the conference is a “BIT Life Science World Congress” based in China. I’m particularly enamored by the fact that at last years BIT world congress there were 200 speakers, 100 posters and 300+ participants…I think you can do the math.

I also love the line in the follow-up email I was sent after I didn’t respond to the initial email: “Maybe there some problems with my mailbox and I haven’t received your kindly reply yet”…..hmmm, yea, seems like they think I’m British!

Oh yea and: “On behalf of the organizing committee, we cordially invite you to deliver a brilliant speech”…but don’t you dare deliver a lame ass speech, that shit will get you thrown in jail!

 

 

 

 

FDX on Vegetarians

Posted: August 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Dude, you’re not a fucking herbivore, you’re an omnivore”

The commentary for the Olympics on the BBC is just fantastic. Much better than the more dispassionate reporting I’m used to in the US. It took a little getting used to the announcers rooting hard for their fellow Brits, but it’s really quite endearing. They are also a little more forward at times with their commentary, even if it’s a little off color.

The most poignant comment I’ve heard thus far occurred a couple of days into the games whilst Gary Lineker (the BBC One evening host) was lamenting the fact that Britain had yet to medal. He consoled his audience by saying “but you’ll be happy to know that the German’s have yet to medal as well!”. The pub I was in just erupted in laughter…what a brilliant line! The scars from WWII run deep…

 

So I’m at my bench today, preparing to apply an electric field to a gel-membrane sandwich with high hopes that the proteins in said gel will nestle into a nook within a nitrocellulose membrane, when I’m approached by what can only be described as the “safety gestapo”:

“Excuse me, I see you are going with the sunglasses look with the safety specs on your head, why aren’t you wearing them?”

I glance at my arm to make sure I’m not wearing a yellow star of David and reply: “Because I’m not working with anything dangerous that requires them”.

Feigning interest one fellow asks: “Oh, is that so…so what is it that you are working with?”

Suppressing an eye roll: “I’m doing a Western blot, so SDS, Tris, some lysate….listen, if I’m going to be pH’ing or working with something dangerous, I’ll put on my specs, otherwise I find them uncomfortable and unnecessary” as I point to the normal glasses I’m already wearing, indicating that the standard issue specs that go over them are difficult to see through and exceedingly bulky.

In response: “Hmmm, well you know that the University will purchase you a pair of prescription safety specs that you could wear. I also found this to be quite useful for me in those instances that I forgot my glasses, it was nice to have an extra pair around” and then he smugly adds “that is before I got laser eye surgery and could wear these specs”.

“Well” I sigh “I pay a lot of money for the glasses I currently have, and extra to get high index lenses, anti-reflection coating and a non-scratch coating so that they are comfortable to wear throughout the day. When you work 10-12 hours in the lab the last thing you want to be concerned with is the comfort of your eye wear”

“I see” the fellow responds, then another guy picks up a squirt bottle on my bench and waves it menacingly in front of me and say “but what about this spray bottle of 70% ethanol, that’s quite dangerous, you wouldn’t want to get that in your eyes”

Starting to get a bit annoyed with what is apparently the second coming of the Spanish Inquisition that seems to be unfolding, I sardonically state “Yes, well, you can get something just as potent down at the pub, should I wear safety specs next time I head to the pub too? There would probably be drunk people there so it would be more dangerous” then, sensing a potential advantage I add: “You know you cannot prevent every accident that could happen, are you going to require me to be wrapped in bubble wrap for my walk to the train when I leave too?”

Apparently having prepared for such a response, the fellow adds: “well, to us, just one accident is one accident too many”

To which I respond: “well I’ve been working in labs for 7-8 years now, and I haven’t heard of anyone squirting something overly dangerous in their eyes. If you know what you’re working with and know what you’re doing, then you put them on when necessary. Otherwise, there is really no point”

Then we continue on going back and forth about how the danger isn’t necessarily what I’m doing, but what others might be doing, to which I respond that others are doing experiments that use many of the same reagents that I typically use. I ask them to take note of the fume hood, place to pH, we’re all good! So wtf?!

Then one of the chaps decides to take a different tack: “Well, you postdocs set an example for the undergraduates and post-graduate students. I asked one of them why they weren’t wearing safety specs and they replied that it was because no one else around them was”*

Now this is when I had to be careful and not let my “Americanism” get a hold of me, as these guys were really pissing me off. When this happens, sometimes I have intolerant thoughts; Despite my patience being pushed to its limit I only let my libertarian side out a bit and reply “well there’s something to be said for personal responsibility. One should take responsibility for one’s own personal safety and have some basic knowledge about what what they are working with and how dangerous it might be”.

So we continued the 3 v 1 a little on this and some other points for about THIRTY FUCKING MINUTES at which time I finally say: “listen, maybe you guys need to go talk to someone else about this and have a discussion with them, I’ve got work to do” as I stare longingly at my gels as they cry for my attention, and I look at the clock and think ‘Fuck, now I’m never going to catch the train in time to eat dinner with the wife tonight’

The gestapo continued raising hell throughout the lab, harassing Jew and gentile alike about their proclivity towards wearing safety specs…once they left I tore off my lab coat (they make us wear those all the time too) and yelled “give me liberty or give me death!” and spent the rest of the afternoon rebelling against unjust tyranny…

————————————————

*In retrospect, this was actually a pretty decent point. Nonetheless…

**I’m actually not this overly antagonistic towards the British. But I would be lying if I said that these sorts of thoughts don’t float through my head every once in awhile; more so when I’m frustrated with cultural differences.

A CV Quandry – posters

Posted: July 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’m looking to update my CV for the first time in about a year and a half, as I’m entering the last 16 months of my contract here in the UK and need to start gearing up for a stateside job search. Whilst I was looking it over (and it’s a damn fine looking CV may I say! it’s good to have a wife who is a graphic designer! But I don’t know how to update it since she made it in Adobe InDesign :/) I was thinking about the utility of having the “Poster Presentation” section. It’s quite long, like 2-3 pages worth, but does anyone really give a rats ass? 

So any thoughts out there in the world wide web? Is a long poster section just a bunch of “fluff” that is seen as padding that makes it look like one is trying too hard? Or is it important to demonstrate that one likes to get out there and promote your shitte? Or does it not really matter because all people look at on a CV is pedigree, publications and the pedigree of the publications and I could put a naked picture of Margaret Thatcher on there and they wouldn’t notice?