Tuesday, October 31


I have a cup of tea and a york pattie to kick me through the afternoon, but I'm slowing down. So sleepy! I finished writing a grant application a little while ago and all remaining enthusiasm fled as soon as I hit send. The stupid thing about the grant is that it's going to take me twice as long to fill in all the paperwork as it did to write it!!

A bunch of us went out to Sushi Zushi for dinner on Saturday night, then randomly decided to go to a Halloween party. Luckily the supermarkets are well stocked, costume wise! I ended up wearing some batman number build for a 6 year old. Seriously uncomfortable but a lot of fun. I was hoping to get some pumpkin carving lessons from someone but I think I've missed my window. Oh well, next year!

On the weekend I also went to a few of the Asian grocers, and stocked up on some weird and wonderful items. One of the places (my favorite one) had peking duck halves for $6. That's just insane! So anyhow, point of the story is that I'm heading home soon to make duck soup :) And the thought of that should get me through the rest of the afternoon. I miss you all!

Saturday, October 28


Um, so here's me complaining that we had a few days of cold in San Antonio, and I log into the Hobart webcams and see snow!? I forgot Hobart sometimes does that odd October cold snap thing. Icky.

I was wandering around Ship of Fools during lunch the other day and came across the following little gem in the 'blunders' section. For those of you who don't remember, ship of fools is subtitled 'the magazine of Christian unrest' and it's written by Christians with a sense of humor and a whole lot of salt. However, if you're the stiff upper lip type and have easily offended sensibilities, don't bother following the links. There, end warning rant. Anyhow, this particular section kept me entertained for a good 10 minutes!

Hello Pastor... >_<

The rest of the site is worth checking too, especially the biblical curse generator and Gadgets for God.

Anyhow, nothing to report. I'm off to a gallery opening tonight but I know nothing about it so I'll have to tell you later! It's insanely windy here today, but bright, gorgeous sun. I'm having fun watching the flocks of birds get tosses around in the sky. Persistent little buggers though!

Friday, October 27

Here comes the sun

Well, somehow I managed to miss the end of summer. I'm not sure how and when that happened but it is definitely gone. The last week, however, was a serious shock to the system. Not only did it rain, lots, but it also got cold! I couldn't believe it. Last Saturday the temperature dropped to 20 degrees (C) and I was thinking about testing out the heating in my apartment! Yesterday it rained heavily all day and many of the roads flooded (because drainage is NOT a priority for the road builders here). However, I can write about this because today is sunny and warm. Yay! We're back up to 30 degrees and climbing. Actually, it feels even hotter today because it's so muggy after the rain. Don't get me wrong, the cold and wet was deliciously enjoyable in it's own way, but I was hoping Jo would at least get a little bit of warm weather! Now at least that's looking a little more likely.

And because I'm in a very random mood...

Yesterday I bought a packet of Fusen gum, which is really good Japanese bubble gum. It was one of those mixed packs where you get to try all the different flavors (orange is still best). However, I'm now left wondering if the pack I bought was made specifically for the American market, because when I took all the mini packs out of the box I discovered a piece of foam inside that is used to hold the smaller pieces in place, and printed on the foam block...


Tuesday, October 24

I am Wonko the Sane

On a lighter note...

While traveling last week I received a packet of salted peanuts on the aeroplane. Very old school, especially given the rate of dangerous peanut allergies. This in itself surprised me, however, when reading the fine print on the packet (as I'm want to do) I came accross the line:

Warning: This product has been produced at a facility that processes peanuts

"Oh I'm sorry mr flight attendant, I can't eat these peanuts. You see, I'm allergic to peanuts and these may contain traces of, well, peanuts" Gah!!!

Saturday, October 21

Outside of the "isle of denial"

So, I promised a second New Orleans post but I've been putting it off because I don't know really how to say it. I'm not an expert on the politics. I'm not a local. Yada yada...

However, what needs to be said is that outside of the French Quarter and the CBD, New Orleans in a mess. Worse than a mess...Utterly destroyed comes to mind. However, there is a strong spirit of hope, courage and fierce determination that is holding the remains together. All I can say is that from the little I saw, I was horrified. I had no idea of how widespread the destruction was, and still is, nearly a year later. And I only saw the edges on some off the less damaged places.

There's an article in the Houston Chronicle that's worth reading. Tells the story much better than I could, although I'm sure it's biased in it's own way. The whole thing is soo caught up in politics now as well, just to add to the complications. The feeling I get here is that people don't want to know. they're sure the government is dealing with it so it's all good.

Anyhow, this post was prompted by two things I saw on the tour that were a bit of a reality check. The first was the watermark on some of the places we drove through. The sides of bridges, halfway up houses...this kind of slimy line. That wasn't so bad, but it was the realisation that the line wasn't where the water got to, but where it stayed that really floored me.

The second were these painted markings on all the houses (outside of the FQ and CBD etc). Painted Xs with notation in each quadrant. The similarities to passover were somewhat sobering. None of my photos worked because they were taken from moving cars, so I borrowed one from here.

I later learnt that these are search markings, where different volunteer teams like the chicago police etc (urban search and rescue) would go out and check for people in the houses. This house has been searched twice, the first time in orange. The date is at the top, the team ID in the left, any hazards etc in the right and the number of bodies or survivors at the bottom. The first marking has NE in the right quadrant, which means there was no entry (water too high, toxic... ). The second marking is from two days later, no hazards, no people. The number of these markings that we passed was, like almost everything else, overwhelming... If I had a hat, I'd take it off to the courage of all those people who were part of those teams.

And then there's the story of the missing killer dolphins... Although that may be a hoax.


Tuesday, October 17

New Orleans - Epic post

So much for my hope of being able to post while I was away. I did have a sporadic net connection. What I didn't have was time! So much to tell you, but first things first...

I'm home now. I was in New Orleans from Monday (9th) to Saturday (14th) at the big American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) meeting. The conference was pretty good, but smaller than usual and I hope that's because genetics is having a quiet year, although I fear it was because people didn't want to go to New Orleans, even though it's one of the best ways to help some parts of the city recover! Anyhow, I spoke on Wednesday. On Tuesday I made the mistake of going in and checking out the room I'd be speaking in...BAD PLAN! It was huge! OK, so 'ballroom' should have given it away but I was not prepared for the sheer number of chairs. I nearly wet myself on the spot. John also changed the entire structure of my talk on Tuesday afternoon so I was pretty much peaking out. But all that aside my talk actually went really well! It seemed to be well received and I got a tonne of questions, even though my session had been very quiet till then. The audio setup was terrible for the stage though. The questions were audible to the crowd but not to us on the podium, so I had to guess most of the questions from the few keywords I picked up. All good though. I had a lot of comments afterwards as well. Our group had about 6 people at the conference, three speaking, so it was great to be part of such an active group rather than wandering round as a lost an lonely PhD student, which has been my experience in the past. The only problem with 'the group' was it meant there was a LOT of socialising!

So, on to New Orleans. We were staying at the hilton on the river, near the convention center, on the corner of the French Quarter. That whole area was not really flooded by Katrina, although it did suffer wind damage and huge economic loss that comes from 80% of your population having to go elsewhere! Most of that side of town is up and running now, trying to get the tourist trade back. However, even from that relatively untouched part of town you can still sense the huge scarring. There's a major labor shortage in the places that are up and running. There are a lot of places in the French Quarter that weren't necessarily damaged, but they're closed for economic reasons. But all of that aside we had a fabulous time!

veiw from my window
more of my viewThis is the view from my hotel window. I was up high enough that I got no noise, but it was lovely to watch the sluggish barges on the Mississippi!

It was gorgeous weather for nearly the entire trip, sunny and warm but not hot. Good for walking! On Monday evening, after we arrived and got settled in, we headed straight for the French Quarter. First place we hit was the Acme oyster bar. Classic Southern style...black and while tiles, red and green neon lighting and a menu consisting of 98% fried stuff and plenty o booze. We circumnavigated the fried options and had fresh oysters, which were good and made even better by the horseradish laced tomato sauce, but nowhere near tassie standard. They were too clean, to the point of being tasteless. I had an oyster shooter and that seemed the best way to enjoy them! After that we headed up to Bourbon St, which is truly it's own unique experience. No idea what it was like pre-katrina but it was rowdy, loud and a lot of fun! Drinking on the streets seemed to be not only condoned, but celebrated, and the majority of bars were 'to-go' meaning take away, no seating room at all.

oh boyThe sign says it all really!

I discovered the joys of the mint julep! Apparently another southern tradition. Massive amounts of fresh mint, crushed with sugar (think Moroccan mint tea) then smothered in bourbon and a hint of soda or 7-up, not sure which. Pretty darn good though! I also tasted a hurricane, and unfortunate local specialty, but it was nasty! So glad I didn't order one of those. After some good live tunes at the 'Famous Door' we went in search of dinner, and ended up at Brennan's, one of the well known and well respected local restaurants. Even more well respected now for keeping their staff on the payroll during the down time! They run several of the top local eateries, but the one we went to is the birthplace of 'bananas foster', a local dessert that involved caramelising a banana in brown sugar, rum, cinnamon and lots of flamage! Tastes pretty good even to the girl who doesn't like bananas! Dinner was gorgeous, and between three of us we had frogs legs, escargots, soft shelled crab and numerous other yummies. Dessert was, of course, bananas foster. The service was excellent and the wine list was pretty good, even though they were recovering from losing 35,000 bottles in the storm!

Random parts of the French Quarter - before my camera failed on me
OK, so perhaps they're not so random. They were actually the least smelly/rowdy parts. The Quarter sure has it's own, distinct fragrance >_<

Tuesday was mostly spent stressing about my talk, having it completely rewritten, then getting it loaded (since my talk was first thing Wed morning). However, I did go on the dinner cruise put on by the company we use for all our gene expression/genotyping work (Illumina). I was kind of stressed and quiet but it was lovely just to glide up and down the river and see a little bit more of the environs.

Wednesday, post-talk, was pretty cruisy. I managed to fit in a nap and catch up on some of the sleep deprivation. That night we hit the parties run by the different universities. They were all in different conference rooms at our hotel so we spent most of the night party hopping. There were some pretty good ones, with a range of food and drinks. The ones that started later even had desserts instead of dinner snacks!

Thursday was an early start for the last of our cohorts talks, followed by a good look at the posters (2000 of them!) and freebie collection at the exhibitors section. Basically all the different companies lure you towards their product by giving away a range of great free stuff. I scored an umbrella, insulated lunch bag, pens, pads, clips and numerous other glowing things, a great coffee mug that changed colour with heat, t-shirts and a bunch of other stuff. I'm a bit of a freebiephile...

Thursday night we were meeting a bunch of friends and collaborators for dinner. The plan was to meet at Acme and go from there but there was a huge queue to get in! (it wasn't that good!) Anyhow, we found a great looking wine bar (La Louisiane) across the road and hung out there. This place was not only accommodating of our huge groups barging in for drinks and snacks, but they also made a bloody mary that included blue cheese stuffed olives! Heaven on a cocktail stick. After the pre-dinner drinkies we headed to a place called NOLA, set up by well known US chef Emeril. While Brennan's had great public support for the way they treated their staff during after Katrina, Emeril copped a fair amount of local flack for staying closed for so long, but they're back up now and the place is definitely worth checking out. We had 10 people, yet the meal was incredibly good all round and hiccup-free! I had mussels followed by crab cakes and a fennel&white bean salad with lump crab meat. I also got to try the lovely Chicory Coffee Crème Brûlée and a glass of ice wine...mmm

Friday was relatively quiet. The conference was all but over. The hotel breakfast was a great buffet that included a station with a lady who made you an omelet topped with your choice of a range of toppings. Brilliant! We ended up having brunch then heading off on a 4 hour mini-bus tour of the city. Tour options includeded swamp, city and disaster and so we decided to do the city tour. It wasn't intended to be disaster focused, but as the guide pointed out, Katrina is now such a major part of their history that you can't ignore it completely. We just didn't want to go around only to look at damage, since the city has so much other history and life as well.

The tour was pretty good, aside from being cramped into a tiny bus with a very loud guide! I certainly learnt a lot about New Orleans in general, but also about the impact of Katrina and the on going ramifications. We went through the garden district which was just gorgeous. Some amazing houses out there. We also went to one of the cemeteries and our guide explained all about the mechanics of above ground burial and it's utility in flood threatened areas. Some of the family tombs were enourmous and soo extravagant. The walls of the cemetery contain mini tombs that are for more general public use, if your family can't afford their own dedicated tomb. Some of the larger ones were set up by clubs, guilds and societies for their members. The deal is that the coffins sit in the tomb for at least a year and a day, sealed behind bricks and mortar, and if there's another burial after this time the remains are emptied into the tomb then pushed to the back where they fall down to the bottom level. Pretty amazing stuff. Almost no cremation and what they do have is only in very recent history! These massive above ground cemeteries are knows the "the cities of the dead".
These are the public and/or cheaper tombs that make up the cemetary wall.

A private tomb. Some of them are enormous!

Ok, so this has turned into a post of EPIC proportions so I will sign off and finish the rest tomorrow. I guess the message is that New Orleans as it is now is definitely worth the visit.


Tuesday, October 10

New Orleans

(pre-script...I wrote this yesterday morning and didn't get time to post it

Hi guys,

I'm just about to jump on the plane to New Orleans to go to the big genetics conference. I'm hoping I'll have net access so I can send you lots of pics. I've never been before and I know it's not what it was, but it's still great to go and I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun. We're staying near the conference centre, at the edge of the French Quarter, which wasn't hit very badly by Katrina. This conference is the biggest general genetics conference there is, so I'm pleased they went through with hosting it there. The conference website has been running a lot of good info about where the city is now and why it's vital to get tourists back. I guess that's one of the best way people can help get the city back on it's feet. I'm looking forward to it! OK, aside from the speaking part. My talk is first thing Wednesday morning so I'll be much more relaxed after that. We get home on Saturday, no doubt exhausted!!

On Saturday I went out to Gruene, on of the little towns just outside San Antonio, with a couple of the girls from work. There was a Texas winetasting fundraiser that we wanted to go to. Texas wine usually means blergh, but there were a couple of ok moscatos. I bought a jar of this amazing burnt orange jelly that has serrano pepper in it... sounds odd but it's this fantastic hot, sweet and slightly savory jam that would be lovely with chicken or cheese or just off the spoon!!

This watertower is in the centre of town. .. I'm rather fond of it!

After the wine tasting we went to a place called the Gruene River Grill. It was pretty good! I don't think we got to see them at their best because they were so busy, but worth a second visit at some point. They had great outdoor furniture to loaf around on while you waited for your table... huge plastic armchairs! They were incredible. Not particularly comfy but they sure looked cool.

After dinner we went to the Gruene Hall (the oldest dancehall in Texas apparently) to see Leon Russell. Aged 70s rocker but he still has a lot of energy and charisma, and you should hear him play the piano! Amazing. The dance hall and and the people were an experience in themselves. I wish there was some way I should have photographed some of the characters in the crowd. The hall is like a barn with a bar, but it had it's own, old-school Texas style. Lots of fun.

water tower...again

Tuesday, October 3


It's 1am and I've just finished making sushi 'because I had leftover tuna'...?!

Off to bed now.

Supermarket of bliss

I just went outside because I had to run some paperwork around the foundation and it is a gorgeous day! It's sunny but not too hot and the trees are totally full of birds. It's almost deafening! The weather has cooled down recently and not we're sitting at about 32 degrees each day dropping too about 20 at night. Just gorgeous. It's perfect for eating outside at night now (although I did get eaten by mozzies on the weekend doing just that)

I've been a touch depressed lately...not sad depressed, just apathetic, flat. Sorry about the lack of posts. I think it's just from being sick and stressed all at the same time. Work is really busy with HUGE grants all due in at the same time and I'm also really stressing about this platform presentation that I'm doing in New Orleans next week...argh!! But I'm getting over it.

I went to one of the best supermarkets in San Antonio on the weekend. I love supermarkets so that was instrumental in me getting out of my black hole. It's called Central Market and it's on the edge of downtown, so a little bit of a stressful drive, but so, so worth it! They have the best fruit and veg section. I found 13 different typed of mushrooms, including these very cool looking blue foot or blewitt mushrooms that really did have blue stems, and bright orange lobster mushrooms, both of which cost about the same as a lobster($50/lb)! But I did find some gorgeous looking oyster and shitakes so looks like it's risotto tomorrow :) This place also has a great fresh fish/meat section and they just happened to have wild caught tuna steak of sale. They were the darkest red! I'm going to have half of it raw for dinner tonight, if I can come up with something cool to do with it. Last time I made soy/ginger/wasabi marinade for the tuna and had it with salad. yummo.

Central Market also has a wonderful and incredibly dangerous cheese section. They even had some King Island Roaring 40's blue!! No bright orange cheddar or monterrey jack to be seen :)

Surprisingly, I didn't go too overboard (I made myself eat before I went there because shopping while hungry is a very bad idea). I picked up some fresh local apple juice that is pretty darn good, a small piece of gorgeous looking Stilton, some yummy bread and a few other bits and pieces. I completely avoided the wine section because I know it'd be as good as everything else there and I don't need any!

So anyhow, I'd better get back to work. I have a week to get my talk organised for the ASHG meeting in New Orleans (panic!) but at the same time I'm looking forward to the trip. We leave next Monday and I think we're on the water, at the corner of the French Quarter (in the convention center area). I'll keep you posted on that one for sure!