Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Visiting England - it's a bug free world!

Reading Jules Verne is serous business
Andy and James at the park
Edward, James and I have often visited Portsmouth to see Andy who is a professor there.  He has a group with several students, postdocs and the university recently hired two other less senior faculty in the same domain. Andy is doing outstandingly well as far as we can tell.  Andy's apartment is relatively close to the sea. He started running weekly, but when it's below 15 degrees and raining and windy I find it's better to stay away.

a boat across Swan lake - *not* HMs Victory
We've been to the butterfly museum, which is the only place we've really seen bugs other than a few flies on the beach. They also have an old dockyard for which Andy and Edward have an yearly pass. They visited HMs Victory -- the ship on which Lord Nelson died after winning battle of Trafalgar against Napoleon Bonaparte.  Edward was most impressed by the bug stories. Apparently, back in the late 1700hundred England had lots of bugs. So many that they invaded food stores on board, and got into improperly stored milk. We've seen so few that I have almost forgotten their existence. They are also no mosquitoes to worry about. It's interesting how civilization destroys so much around it. Today's clean is equivalent to dead. But should it be so? Should we value order and death over life?

With so many cats at home (5 are left as of today), James was very disappointed that there were no cats to be seen on the streets in Portsmouth. Three days into our last trip we finally saw a very pretty kitty, but poor James was asleep. We've taken to feeding the seagulls. Andy succeeded in having them catch popcorn he threw in the air. James ran after the pigeons. The children and Andy also watched videos of goats that sound like people. What else are fathers for?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fall of 2018

the roof is being finished

Everyone at work

I turned 36
we had lots of pumpkins

James in England

Andy and James in England
Edward and his cake: he turned 8
School started again and I am already tired of it even though I no longer take classes. The children try to study from time to time, but it's been nice outside and it can be hard to focus. Edward is in fourth grade and will soon finish elementary school, and David is in 7th grade. We went to England a bunch of times this summer and swam in the North Sea. In July it was cold, but in August it was pleasant even though the heat wave had gone.

a stair for wild pigs: at the lake in Taut

This weekend Edward is traveling -- it's his third trip without me this year. His first trip was in Budapest, then he went with Mihai and David to his first invited seminar in Tecuci (Edward and David promised to write more about that on their own blogs), and until tomorrow he'll be in Maramures with his classmates. Edward is eight and David is 11. So far they both did so many more things than I did at their age, and yet it always feels like they are not doing enough and like I am not helping them do more. In addition to the trips to England and to school trips, we've taken two trips where we've stayed overnight in Taut at Minisul de Sus. It's a village near Arad where I own a house. At  Minisul de Sus only two or three houses are occupied year-round, and since there are so few people and no agriculture, there is no dust, which is quite impressive. However, when we went in the garden, we met the wild pigs. It was a sow with piglets. I instinctively ran down the hill, while the children came down slower -- as indicated when one meets wild animals. The house is 3 km from a big, beautiful lake. There Edward build some steps (see picture), and the next day there were lots of footmarks from wild pigs. They must have liked the idea of going down to the water on steps because they were new.

James turns two in a week. He sometimes says full sentences like "Miauna pisicile (the cats are meawing)", but mostly talks in his own language beyond some words like "Titzi", "Apa" and "Pipi", which can some times mean chickens and other times that he needs to pi. He does seem to always have a lot to say and to like people. This week he even found my car keys for me. He also always tries to help -- if I carry or do something.

David will soon be 12. He is almost as tall as my mother now, but complains of not growing fast enough -- it's all relative. His classmates are two years older, and are mostly taller than he is. He has been quite reliable recently. He milks the goats, and helps around with my father and even helps around the house when I ask and all happens only as long as I stare at him while he does what's needed. Lisa (his mom) insists he becomes a doctor. So far he likes chemistry very much.

The roof in Chizatau is done, but there is always more work there and elsewhere.  I am as inefficient as always. My father is still bed-rid and my mother is overwhelmed with his care, but still accomplishes more than me.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The protests: will they succeed?

Bucharest: tens of thousands ask for new goverment. Day 2.
I virtually stand with my friends and colleagues who are protesting in Bucharest and Timisoara. Like most Romanians out there, I hope the government will change to one like that formerly led by Dacian Ciolos and will succeed in reducing corruption and making changes that last. Pictures of the crowd and of the tear gas that was thrown at them can be seen across a number of major news channels including the telegraph.
wounded protesters
One of my highschool classmates
A message from an unknown couple

Do I think the protests will lead to lasting changes? The diaspora votes are what helped Iohanis become president, and Romanians working abroad made a huge effort to come to Bucharest. They travelled from all corners of the world to help him again. This is soon after the forced demission of Laura Kovesi, who almost succeeded in bringing order. Yet these efforts have so far led only to ineffectual changes. The defence minister is out "to account" for the miscommunication that resulted in 400+ injured people. Liviu Dragnea says he is sad it had to happen. He did go to Israel this spring. Did he find support there? Probably. Will that and other bribes to corrupt officials elsewhere be enough to keep him in power over this and future hurdles? I hope not, but I don't know. Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and is still US president in spite of proof of Russian interference in the elections and bad language and abuse of women. Rudi Giuliani was paid to speak against the anti-corruption movement in Romania. The only visible change is that so far Liviu Dragnea is less obnoxious than in the past when talking to the press.

The trend of "elected" politicians who are not people one can respect is seen across Europe and America. I hope Romania will eventually find the strength to stand out in Eastern Europe like Canada has in North America. It most likely won't work out this way. Nevertheless, while I am sorry I cannot be in Bucharest today, I will continue to do what I can to help people around me achieve their dreams. I have also voted in every election, and will continue to do so. I support the people who have the strength to stand out there, chant, sing and fight for freedom.

Short answer to the question in the title: No, but I still hope for change and stability.

An obvious path that could work for depleted countries like Romania:
1. Accept immigrants. Eastern Europe is empty. Might have to do some work to entice them. 2. Work hard to integrate them. 3. Jobs and progress will stimulate more from the diaspora to return home.

Romania is not the only country that lacks young people. Russia just increased it retirement age to 65 for men and conceded to allow women to retire at 60, when the average male lives to 67.  Russian women who had more children can retire earlier. It will be interesting to see if Russia will follow such a path given its history and human rights issues.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Cow-Minder

In Chizatau nature has been taking over the river bed. Herons, egrets and wild ducks fly from place to place. Plenty of clam shells can be seen by the water. If one looks closely enough, they are holes in their shells and are filled with mud, which is proves that they were eaten by birds. The grass is full of bees. Dragon files and small blue butterflies zoom ahead as I walk by.

The only person I see there regularly is the cow-minder. It would be silly to call him a cowboy because he is in his mid sixties. He considers himself too old to leave Chizatau. He earns a hundred lei per month per cow + food, and leaves home early in the morning and walks the river bed with the cows until 7 p.m. The cows lead.  There are nine of them. They eat grass, rest at mid day, go in the water to cool off and wash, and then walk back home. Each of them has a different personality. He said only the smallest one is lazy and naughty.  The rest listen to him, love to be clean and cannot stand even a speck of dirt. They wash several times a day.

He is not the only one who walks the river bed. There is another old man I see from time to time. He has the luxury of guarding his own cows, and is not always there at a fixed time. He stays under a tree and reads his bible while his cows graze. Then there are the shepherds. They stop at the same place as the nine cows at mid day with their sheep and chat and sometimes share food.

The cow minder tells me he has two sons, but they visit rarely. One chose badly when he married a girl he met in a dicotheque. They had a daughter together who is sixteen and very big and tall. She seems to posses no other qualities in his eyes. He has since divorced his wife and moved to Germany for work, but does not save much money because he smokes and that's expensive. The other son works in Lugoj - the nearby city - and has two younger children. They like to be on their phones and tablets and don't have time to visit a grandfather in a small village a little more more than 15 km away or help with house chores. 

When I was growing up, the river bank in Chizatau was almost white with geese and full of laughing children. They were so many that together with cows and other forms of livestock they managed to stop me from swimming. Today the geese are gone. I've seen only one lonely goose in somebody's yard.

The cow minder himself had had a wife. She died when their children were about the same age as mine crushed under concrete. She worked at making marble, and one day the concrete mixer was broken. She was told to hit it with a shovel to get it to restart. When she did so, it fell on her and crushed her. So, the cow minder raised his boys alone and let them splash in the Bega river where they learned to swim on their own. He was not a cow minder then because Chizatau had a Cooperative and made concrete, bricks and marble. It was a busy place.

It's interesting that now nature is taking over without fancy intervention programs. Most people have moved to the city or abroad, and the ones who are left spend their time on tablets and computers and let wild life grow not because they support it but because they are too addicted to technology to do anything else. There are few farm animals other than the cows, and some sheep. Most people keep dogs and they are confined to their yard. There are no geese or ducks or children on the roads. The only noise is from cars and trucks because Chizatau is on the main county road from Timisoara to Lugoj.

This year has been strange. Summer came in late March right after snow and it stayed warm and rainy. It rained every 2-3 days and plants, grass and trees grew. There were no storms here as of yet or wild-fires. The fruits and vegetables riped quickly or went bad because of the rain. The only thing that grew in our garden are pumpkins - lots of them - and grapes.

The rest of the world is warming up.  Even the UK, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark have had a long hot summer this year. Sweden highest peak melted by 13 feet in the month of July. The Swiss military is wearing shorts and T-shirts. The wild-fires have reached the Artic circle.  California and Greece have lost people to fires and plenty of houses.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

July in April

Summer arrived after winter this year. It snowed at the end of March because the polar vortex, which is  a wall of wind that circulates the air at the poles, split and could not push the warm air away from the Arctic.  So, in February and March it was warmer at the North Pole than in Rome. Now that the snow is gone, every day the temperature is close to 30 C. My children comment on the weather from time to time. Since they are the future, I am briefly recording what they say.

Edward: "Everything will ripe fast and in the same time because it's so hot. Then most humans will disappear. It's like in Jules Verne's book". 

Edward: "I like Jules Verne because nobody important dies in his books. In this one he only kills most of humanity, and some stranded English soldiers."

[Edward is 7. We've been reading "Hector Servadac" -- it's our 5th Jules Verne book to date.  The children call it Hector SavesADuck because it's funnier to say.  The protagonist is stranded on part of Earth that travels through the solar system on top of a hard-core comet, which somehow has an atmosphere. It gets closer to the Sun and heats up and then further away and everything freezes.  We have not reached  the end yet.  I do believe that they return to Earth in another close encounter and everyone important lives happily ever after -- not the English, of course. The English float away on another piece of the comet because they are too proud to work with the French, the Spanish and the Russians  + one Italian girl (20some total) even when there is literally nobody else left. We were disappointed to find that Hector does not save any ducks - only the non-English people and a pigeon.]

David:" Will Romania become a desert? will it be like California or Sahara? how long will desertification take? a year or two or will it be decades?"

[David is 11. He asks lots of question to which I don't have an answer. I keep telling him that to avoid desertification we'd have to keep existent forests and plant a lot more trees. We could count all the trees and stop cutting them, but our governments are formed from people who are too old to care.  When/if this changes, will we be able to change enough to avoid major disasters? I am not sure.]

[I am not ungrateful. I am thankful for warmth. We visited England in the beginning of April and it was rainy and chilly almost every day. But I also know that hurricanes get strong quicker when the ocean is warm, and that harsher storms are expected to come. I raise three little boys, and I worry: will they grow up? will they be safe? am I doing enough to help them prepare for whatever lies ahead?]

Thursday, March 8, 2018

La multi ani!

I am thankful for the wonderful women in my life. I primarily thank my mother. She has always been there for me -- helping and supporting me in everything I have done or tried to do until now. It's been a hard year for her, and I am so grateful she is still able to handle it all. I've always thought that if there were angels on this Earth they'd be like her, and like my grandma had once been.  On the left is a picture of Edward with the paper roses he built for me for mother's day under the guidance of his teacher -- another strong woman who works very hard to teach them all she knows. The roses are amazingly beautiful. On the right is Silkie, our hen. One of the chickens she raised this summer is lame. This evening she seemed to help her and keep her company even though the chicken is now a grown hen. 

My children are growing up so quickly, it's hard to keep up. Edward is first to wake up when the alarm rings. He actually gets up and gets dressed instead of turning it off and going back to bed. He gets to school on time and wants to be there every day to not miss out. They even have fancy shirts now that they wear  for end of year plays in school and when they go to the theatre, and look so grown-up in them. As much as I complain and try to get them to do more around the house and to do they homework on time, I hope they'll manage to stay happy and care-free for a little longer. That's partly why I've hanged on to our little zoo and refused to move out to yet another country.

Below are some pictures of my mother, Edward and David from before the winter. We are all eagerly waiting for more sun.


David's letter

On mother day, all children in David's class were asked to write a letter to their mother. This is David's. I translated it from Romanian.

Dear mother,

I would like to see you as soon as possible. How are you and Danny and the rest? what's new there?

We have 2 goats, I don't know how-many chicken, 2 ducks and a quail.

Last summer there was a great storm. We had to change the tiles on the roof. I believe it's because of global warming. I heard there were fires in California. Did you have any storms?

I heard the ice is melting. This means the ground could go up or down by as much as 50 m in some places, which is not a problem other that California and other parts of Earth will go under the sea level and sink.


He genuinely shows the approach we all take. Yeah, the ice is melting, no big deal, CA and other places might sink. Move on to doing whatever we do every day.  Note his mother lives in CA.

So many forests are cut, our politicians deny global warming AND promote work that increases carbon emissions. Somehow there is nothing we do to stop this cycle. Like with the war in Syria and with the refugees, we read the news, ignore and move on. Since the water is warm, there are bound to be stronger storms and more extreme temperatures. I wonder how bad it will get.  We are trapped in virtual reality (the internet, money, random stupid paperwork) and as we become more and more disconnected from the world we live in, it's becoming extremely hard to make changes that have impact in the real world.

But the letter is simpler than my grumbling. David misses his mother. He would very much like to see her and Danny (his brother), and he worries that the part of the world she lives in will get destroyed. I told him climate change takes time and that CA will not get to be underwater any time soon.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Happy New Year!

It's 2018! This summer it will be ten years since I received my PhD from Cornell University.  I used to think of 2018 as being in the very far future. Growing up, movies portrayed the far future by involving flying cars and robots. David is talking to his phone in the other room asking "what will the weather be". So, while car-flying is still unsafe, we search the web constantly for advice. We consult the world wide web instead of simply looking at the sky or asking the neighbor next door for an opinion. The future from old movies is not very far off. As cars become self-driving they will be tracked precisely and perhaps made to fly. Machine learning is teaching robots to be human, and will progress in time.

My future so far is with my children. James is one, Edward is seven and David is ten. This month marks the first year when I have not been working since I started to work at 18. Yet with three children, I have had less time than ever before. I have often felt like a failure. My house is never clean. The children don't have very good grades. My yard and garden are a big mess, and I have been screaming and complaining to and of the aforementioned children way more often than I should. I have two shirts and two pairs of pants that I have been wearing day after day and a dress for when it's really warm in the summer. Most of my clothes are impractical for home-life and stay in my closet or in various bags. Nobody really cares how I look. It does not make an impression on the children or on the animals. Although, one of the roosters attacks me more when I wear my red pants. Most houses in the neighborhood are empty or populated by older people without children or with grown children elsewhere.

So, what comes to mind when I think of 2017?
    David and Edward on Mars

  • Some of the men in my life and Marcel
    The year started and ended in Lugoj because it's where the children go to school. Both Edward and David passed their examinations and are now firmly in third and sixth grade. They have learned a lot, and will continue to do so. Many of the subjects they study in school are not interesting enough for them. So, their grades are far from perfect, but then perfection is for heaven if there is such a place. If I ever I get there,  I want the saints to remember that I spend most of my time this year when I was not putting James on his potty doing homework with either Edward and David. Even though most of it is in German (they attend school in German for continuity's sake after coming from Switzerland), I still don't speak German well, which gets me back to being a failure. 
  • I submitted the paper on measuring planetary spin from space-craft tracking After constructive interaction with referees, it was published in the Frontiers journal.
  • We spent February in Tenerife and celebrated one year since the first gravitational waves detection and David's tenth birthday. I wanted the children to see the ocean again, and get a bit of sunlight in midwinter. Edward, David and Andy climbed their third volcano. Mount Teide is the third highest volcano on Earth with a summit at over 3700 meters.  Its caldera was formed some 180 000 years ago through movement of the tectonic plates that caused a gap.
    Mount Teide grew in response.   The children loved the Mars-like territory and the pumice rocks that had air trapped in them and were still warm. They are rocks that float. 
  • I mostly stayed 'home' with James and my parents in our rental from Icod de los Vinos. We saw what they claimed is the oldest tree in the world,  some plants from the same family as the dandelion that grow into trees, and lots of chicken living by the road-site and in a Cactus garden near the house. In Galapagos, similar trees grow to be hundreds of meters tall, and bring moisture from the clouds to the islands.
  • Sometimes you can buy love -- animals are quite easy to purchase and they love us almost unconditionally. In June we bought Lady Edward (or Edwina Cleverbrain), Lady David (Davina Cleverbrain) and Lady James (Jamesina Cleverbrain) from the village of Tormac. They can open doors, untie knots and even eat with a fork. They avoid mud puddles, which makes them cleaner than my children, and unlike James, they do not eat food after it falls on the ground. Our guest for the holidays was Marcel -- a male goat. He stinks -- most male goats do -- but is very friendly. He is, however, not as smart as our ladies. He belongs to the director of the hospital here. He even has eagles and vietnamese pigs and more goats than us, which shows that I am not the only educated person in the area with animals. 
  • Andy went to the veterinary Farmacy and asked for preventive worm medicine for farm animals. They gave him some for cows because as an American they thought he must be a cowboy. It made no sense to explain he was a professor somewhere and so instead he said "no, I only care about goats. Does it work for goats?" (note that Andy is almost always very serious when he speaks and this was no exception). So, the person at the counter wrote in black the goat dosage: 10 ml/goat.
  • I am the editor of a new topic in Frontiers that is trying to attract more women to publish in its pages. 
  • We went hiking with Ed, Gab and Werner

  • Mihai and I gave invited seminars in Majorca at the Einstein Toolkit Meeting & Ed fest. Edward Seidel was my first advisor. He turned 60 this year and he and Gab remain persons I deeply admire. Ed still climbs mountains better than me and is responsible for connecting science and industry for universities in Illinois. It was fun to see physicists again. James took his first steps there, and has had his picture taken with Bernard Schutz, Gabrielle Allen, and other world-famous scientists who shaped my understanding of the world once-upon-a-time. 
  • I gave a seminar in Southampton in November. James and I also attempted to help Andy settle in his new reader position at Portsmouth. Andy's new apartment has lots of steps, and before he turned one, James learned to go up and down steps there. The departments at Southampton and Portsmouth are still largely intact after our visit. James participated in the after seminar discussions dressed as an elf. Andy had to explain he was not one of the good elfs because he was rearranging their journals and furniture and took the opportunity to draw with permanent markers on the seminar table while we were scrambling to put pieces back in place. We are planing a second visit to Portsmouth in February when I am giving another seminar.
  • I submitted a fellowship applications to be able to join Andy in England. If I pass the first phase, I will have to go for an interview. It will break my heart to leave Lugoj again, and tear all the little roots the children have built here. This year is marks the first time when Edward wants to go to school because he has friends there. On the other hand, we will have to spend some of the year there, and we cannot do so without health insurance. It's easiest to get insurance if I work. Update: My proposal had very good reviews, but I did not get the fellowship. So, I do not need to worry about going back to work yet.
  • the 3D boson star code from 2006 works on modern computers. While Gregory Daues, Jayashree Balakrishna and Christine Corbett-Moran and I are still debugging, we are aiming to produce a paper in 2018 and release the code so that other people can build on it. My first physics project involved boson stars. Much of what I have done in the past two years is to revive old houses. I am now trying the same with technology/code. The equations have not changed and so it should not be too difficult if I ever find the energy and/or time to work, which is very challenging for me.
  • In December, Edward, David and I published our third book for children: You, me and the dinosaurs. This book is more theirs than mine. Mihai criticizes it for not being deep enough and for not saying anything that he considers worthwhile, but depth comes with age and the children and I like it the way it is for now.
Somehow I still feel the need to motivate my choices so that if I am not around to tell them or if I forget, my children understand why I made them. Also, plenty of people ask these questions and it's only fair to provide answers now and then.

Have I always lived like this when in Romania?
No, my parents are doctors. We've had a few cats and dogs when I was growing up, but but no farm animals. My grandparents had some chicken. My grandmother and great aunt were mathematicians. My grandfather was a silvic engineer. They lived in this house in Lugoj before me. In fact, I've never had a goat myself before finishing my second postdoctoral position.

Ok, so are all Cornell graduates crazy? Cornell is in the US and after all and that country has a "very stable genius" for president. While I do not guarantee everyone's mental faculties, as far as I know my former classmates from Cornell are goat-free and chicken-free. I have this information from Facebook. Some have faculty positions, some have positions in industry, some teach at other levels  and some stay home for now to raise their children. 

So, what's wrong with me?
I am using these animals to connect my children to the real world. When I go to school for updates on their behavior, we are told that children today are three years ahead of our generation. Teeth grow faster, puberty happens faster, and I backed up a bit in an attempt to slow down this time I have with them. Once we moved to Lugoj, Edward's teeth stopped falling. In Zurich, before he turned six he had changed both upper and lower teeth. We still eat food from the store, but some comes from the market (at least in spring and summer) and some from the trees in our back yard. The eggs are from our chicken and the milk from our goats. I hope that they will grow up to be healthy and have the courage to change the world. To prepare for this we travel, do math, read, and take care of things-- animals, plants, etc. They are children, and so my mother and I do close to all the work (David does milk Devina and Edwina twice a day), and I always worry we strive for too much, but somehow I am not able to stop. I also worry about their future in world where our leaders are too old to lead and cannot adapt and understand or support new technology. They destroy to stay in charge, plunge countries into pointless wars and take decisions that affect us all.