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Saturday 11 May 2019
in I'll Explain Everything to the Geeks

Adobe Digital Editions, Linux, and DRMs: Updated

Longtime readers may remember that I am quite stubborn about removing the DRMs of books I purchased for my own reading.

In fact, I have little choice: my current ebook reader is a PocketBook Touch Lux 3 that, crucially, is not linked to a specific bookstore (unless the same bought, say, from Decitre in France). I tend to buy ebooks from Kobo, because I like their selection and because, unlike the dreaded Amazon-Kindle binding, you're not limited to using their reader to read your ebooks.

Unfortunately, many of the ebooks they sell come with the dreaded Adobe Digital Edition (also known as ADE, which make it sounds nice and nonthreatening like my friend Adélaïde, but do not get lulled into a false sense of security) DRMs. Particularly dreaded of the Linux users, for ADE is only available for Windows or Mac.

All fine and dandy (provided you're not too bothered about the concept of DRMs) if you have an ADE-compatible device.

But not so much in my case.

So I need to somehow transform the .acsm files I purchase into DRM-free epubs.

And my old setup to do so suddenly started failing with a "#2038" network error that I was not able to fix. Which is when it became apparent that I had to seriously upgrade my suite of tools... And here's how I did it, on Linux Mint 18.3 (yeah, I should upgrade, but it's stable, okay?).

Installing Adobe Digital Editions 2.0

The first thing is to install Adobe Digital Editions 2.0. I owe many thanks to Pat David's post for that part.

First thing first, you need wine 3.0. Easy to acquire as wine-stable from your repository.

You'll also need winetricks and cabextract.

One nice thing about wine is that you can have multiple setups, each corresponding to a so-called "prefix", so you can mess around one setup without killing everything else. Following Pat's advice, I decided to use a prefix called ".adewine" (instead of the default ".wine") for the installation and use of ADE.

export WINEPREFIX=~/.adewine

Then you need to tell wine you want to work with a 32 bits Windows

WINEARCH=win32 winecfg

At this point, a setup window should open. Make sure to choose Windows XP here, as more recent versions of Windows won't let you install the .NET framework.

Add a few necessary packages:

winetricks -q corefonts
winetricks -q windowscodecs

If at this stage you encounter an error, follow Pat's advice again to fix it:

cd ~/.cache/winetricks/windowscodecs/
cabextract -d tmp wic_x86_enu.exe
cd tmp/
cp windowscodecs* ~/.adewine/drive_c/windows/system32/

You're now ready to install the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 Full Package!

Here what worked from me diverged from what Pat did. I had to download dotnetfx35setup.exe from the Microsoft website and then run

wine  wine dotnetfx35setup.exe

(This took me two days to figure out, by the way.)

And now, to the installation of Adobe Digital Edition 2.0

All what's left to do is to download the Windows installer of ADE and run

wine ADE_2.0_Installer.exe


You should now be able to run ADE, with a command such as

 wine ~/.adewine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Adobe/Adobe\ Digital\ Editions\ 2.0/DigitalEditions.exe

Now you should be able to drag and drop your .acsm file into ADE and double-click the ebook to open it.

If you navigate to

~/My\ Digital\ Editions

you'll see that a new epub file has appeared here: your book!

Unfortunately, at this stage, this epub file is still DRMed, and the book is still quite far from being readble on your ebook reader...

Time to move on to step 2: the wonderful tools of Apprentice Alf.

Installing the DeDRM tools

Apprentice Alf, Apprentice Harper, The Dark Reverser and i♥cabbages are a few of the heroes that make it possible to remove DRMs from books you've legally purchased so that you can actually read them on your ebook reader (which you have also legally purchased for the purpose of reading books rather than surfing the Internets looking for a solution to your obscure error messages). Thank you, folks. Heartily.

Your first step here is to download

Unzip this somewhere and navigate to DeDRM_calibre_plugin/.

To use these tools, you'll need Python2.7. On wine, of course. To install it, download the latest Windows X86 MSI and run

wine msiexec /i python-2.7.16.msi

Now download from Voidspace, unzip it, and run

wine pycrypto-2.1.0.win32-py2.7.exe

You are ready to extract the relevant scripts from the DeDRM calibre plugin!

 cp inept*py ~/.adewine/drive_c/Python27/Tools/Scripts/.
 cp ~/.adewine/drive_c/Python27/Tools/Scripts/.

The script allows you to generate the magic key that will unlock your DRMs: run

wine explorer /desktop=name,1024x768 python.exe

and take good note of the message telling you that the key was successfully added to, in my case, adobekey_1.der.

You can now use to remove DRMs from your DRMed pdf files:

wine explorer /desktop=name,1024x768 python.exe

and to remove DRMs from your DRMed epub files: wine explorer /desktop=name,1024x768 python.exe

If you use calibre, which is a very nice tool to manage your library, you can now install the DeDRM calibre plugin as follows.

Open calibre.

In the upper menu bar, you'll find a "Preferences" menu. You might need to click on the tiny arrow at the far right of this bar to see all the possibilities.

Click "Plugins" then "Load plugin from file"

Pick DeDRM_calibre_plugin/

Click "Configure plugin". If you need to find this plugin again, it will be under "File type plugins".

Click "Import Existing Key Files"

Navigate to the .der key previously generated.

And voilà[1]!

Any DRMed epub, obtained under "My Digital Editions" after having opened an .acsm file with ADE, that you read in Calibre will be DeDRMed in calibre.

And now I can finally get on with my weekend.


[1] No, not "viola". The viola is a wonderful instrument but "viola" is French for "raped", unlike "voilà" which is French for "here you go". Also, I've seen "raped carrots" (for "shredded carrots salad") way too often in the English version of the menus in French restaurant.

Monday 6 August 2018

So many people turn me one way

So many people turn me one way
So many people turn me to stay
Never time to have my mind meet up
Caught in a motion and I don't wanna stop.

The Whitest Boy Alive – Burning

To make a long and well-known story short, after months (years?) of taking on too much work on the name of not wasting an opportunity to do something interesting that matters, I flew back from a conference (one that happened over a week-end, and although I did not attend many talks this is probably quite telling) to find myself utterly unable to leave for the one I was supposed to head to the following morning.

I've had two weeks of leave, a few half-days of work, some vacation, and I am now slowly starting to work again before m Iore vacation. I have spent a lot of time cancelling things, not reading my email, and trying to figure shit out. In that spirit, I am collecting resources and pieces of advice I have gotten on how to manage your time as an academic, learn to say no to brilliant opportunities (and crap ones as well), and avoid burnout (possibly). Here they are, in a jumble, for me to reflect on and others to benefit from.

Understanding burnout

  • Did you slow down enough? Sometimes you think you have slowed down, but it turns out you have not – this is a bit what happened to me: I had already started saying no to so many things! Well, not enough, lady.
  • There seems to be a connection between burnout and impostor syndrome: feeling incompetent, worrying about it, and compensating for it are tiring. Ah, and also, women suffer from both more than men.

While on medical leave

  • Give yourself time. Permission to rest. Time to consider your options.
  • Email: When on leave, have an automatic email response that says you're on leave and will not be able to respond soon. Many problems will vanish on their own. If you're afraid your duties aren't being taken care of properly, or of missing out on a cheering-up personal email, have some trusted person sift through your email for you. Stop reading your work email.
  • Don't be ashamed. There' s nothing to be ashamed of. It's a classic, really. The moment I thought the word "burnout", I had 4 other academics, people I deeply respect as scientists and friends, coming to my mind as friends I could turn towards because they have been through this as well.
  • If you can, find a therapist who is an expert on work stress. They will help you figure out things about how you work in the long run. (Note to self: a therapist who think it "telling" that I am an only child, tells me way too much information about another patient of hers, and gives me – unprompted at that – the same useless bullshit about disordered eating as any issue of Cosmopolitan from the early 2000s is not an appropriate therapist.)
  • I've been told meditation helps. I think coloring, crocheting, doing super simple crosswords, or any other thing that helps you focusing on what you are doing and letting go of other thoughts are similarly helpful. I've also been told of apps that guide your breathing (such as Kardia) and well, I figure there isn't much to loose in trying one of them – worse case, you'll have, what, breathed?

Clearing out your schedule

  • Clearing out your schedule: When preparing to come back from leave, make a list of all your commitments, by chronological order. Mark those you absolutely want to do. Decline all others. Then think long and hard about whether you are absolutely sure you want to do the remaining ones. Be super selfish ­– are they important for you? Will they give you more energy, be uplifting? Or do you feel like a weight is lifting off your chest when you consider the possibility that this disappears from your todo list? Have a trusted person (or more), with a good idea of what every item entails, go through the list with you and ensure it looks reasonable.
  • Remember: Important and urgent are two different things.
  • Allow yourself to back out. The world won't end and no one will die if you back out of this one commitment. Classes can be canceled for one term. Keynotes can vanish from the conference schedule. Someone can replace you. Unless they're utter asshats, other faculty members will be happy to have a chat with your PhD students about their project. The paper can be submitted to another conference.
  • Read about how to back out gracefully from commitments you can no longer honor (see for example Maria Corleo or Fast Company).
  • Checkout the foolproof approach to saying no, and keep a list of a few sentences you can use to refuse invitations, such as "Thank you for thinking of me for this! I would love to do it, but my plate is full at the moment / I have a busy semester ahead."

Avoiding burnout or overcommitment

  • The "NO" committee is a group of 3 people who are close to you but not involved in your work and will help you evaluate any request for additional work. Without going that route, I suggest giving yourself time (a couple days at least) before saying yes. Do not say yes until you can list good reasons to accept. To figure out what a good reason is, imagine it's not you but a prone-to-overwork friend who is given this opportunity or request: would the reason convince you she should say yes?
  • Read Jo VanEvery on saying no. Keep the distinction between importance and emergency in mind, and take the time to define what is important.
  • List criteria to consider before accepting an invitation to give a talk or lecture / review a paper or an application / organize an event / contribute to a grant proposal. Mostly, what will I get out of it and how long will it take (including preparing slides, doing the paperwork for traveling, travel time, etc.)
  • Block time for personal research (reading, thinking, working out stuff, coding, running experiments) as well as self-care in your schedule. Treat this as any other set appointment that you cannot reschedule.
  • Sleep. Easier said than done, but if you need a reminder of why sleep is important, here's a Guardian article. Don't read it if you suffer from insomnia, because you do not need to feel guilty about not being able to sleep on top of everything else. Do tell your doctor you're not sleeping enough, though.
  • Avoiding the scourge that is email: No email before 12pm, or before you've done at least two things, or only at 10am and 4pm... Well, you get the idea: do not spend your day checking your email and reacting to any and every thing that comes your way. And no email at home / in the evening / at the weekend / when on vacation. Do you need to respond to all your email all the time? Read Melissa Fobos's Do you want to be known for your writing, or for your swift email responses?.

Late 2020 edit: You may want to read Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski's book Burnout, especially if you're a woman.

Tuesday 20 October 2015
in Sweet Sister Mercy

Deep-Fried Smelly Old Socks

I have been invited to give a talk at a workshop in a scientific community that I don't know well (and that I would have described as only tangentially related to mine before discovering I knew two of the research groups that were present).

A number of things have irked me.


Thursday 14 May 2015
in Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

The Three Things Your Pub Toilets Need

1. A variety of condom choices. P1020180a.JPG

2. A dementia-related ad. P1020182a.JPG

3. Carpet. P1020181a.JPG

Friday 24 April 2015
in I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

Science and Music, More Than Ever

April means flowers blooming, days growing to a decent length, the sun shining and the fog of a depressing winter lifting at last. Massacres keep happening, migrants die by the hundreds on the wide Mediterranean sea, and French politics are getting maddeningly scary, but spring is in the air and in my steps. It's also in the steps of the World's Best Baby, who is starting to walk with these little gleeful toddler shouts that melt all your troubles away.


I go to most excellent concerts.

I've seen Vladimir Ashkenazy conduct an orchestra of young musicians. I've heard the most beautiful Haydn. I've shivered hearing the song of a clarinet mix with the voice of a viola. I've savored comments from members of the audience, remarking afterwards on how beautiful an instrument the viola is (well, duh). I've marveled at Beethoven's violin sonatas, along with an audience who brought forth three encores and concluded with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Tomorrow I'll see the New York Philharmonic. The New York Philharmonic! All this thanks to a bunch of generous people from the Internet. I met three of them face-to-face for the first time a couple of weeks ago. They're even better in person.

I prepare concerts with my orchestra.

I make the time to practice and play my instrument more often, almost daily.

I hang out with people who make music as a pastime; I hang out with people who breathe music in every minute in their spare time; I hang out with people who make music for a living.


Young people with much more impressive resumes than mine at the time I was completing my masters degree are applying to do their PhD with me, sometimes even being ready to forgo guaranteed funding to "give themselves the means to do what they really want" even though none of the funding plans we have for them is guaranteed. A professor I almost did my own PhD with now asks me to co-advise a PhD student with her.

Colleagues are letting me know how much they appreciate me, both as a scientist and as a person, through the regular application of blush-inducing compliments. Thankfully I recently noticed that it doesn't always show when I feel the heat rising to my cheeks, allowing me to appear to keep my cool.

I went to a very geeky one-day event, got my programming groove back on, and relished hearing people getting passionate about low-level architecture. Attending said event with a guy I used to study with more than ten years ago was the perfect icing on that nerdy cake. After that, I got to spend a very nice evening drinking too much wine with British guys who at some point actually argued about tweed. And plaid. And emacs vs vim, of course.

I do math and write code and think about genetics and I keep being amazed that people pay me to do so.

Music + Science (h/t)

I argue about jazz with my colleagues.

I make plans to play a concerto with a woman I first met over a shared interest for graph theory and statistics.

I wonder about the piano, viola, violin trios that I could play with two people with whom I'm equally likely to discuss convex optimization as German romantic composers.

And old friend writes me about music I made him discover years ago and smoothly transitions to HIV research in the following paragraph.

I go out to orchestra parties. There's sometimes food, often wine, and always laughter, singing, and math jokes. Occasionally there's also dancing and the opportunity to verify empirically the stereotype that bassoonists are good with their lips and tongue.

There's no better morning-after talk than music and science.

And traveling too (h/t)

A childhood friend slowly introduces me to the people he met in the fifteen years we haven't seen each other. Invariably, we talk about music, and science, and travels. (And, well, politics.)

I buy plane and train tickets. To other places in France, to the Netherlands, to Scotland, to Iceland.

And because you can never make everything fit in nicely design little boxes, one of my closest friends wrote a novel that looks like it's going to be published for real and I'm way too excited about this for my own good.

Tuesday 3 February 2015
in Dear Diary

The Proposal

It sometimes feels like most of my scientific career is made of "why the fuck did I accept to do this?" moments.

The only thing that changes is that now I know they're going to happen at the moment I agree.

This time was no exception. Five-year research plan, one point five million euros, nine percent chance of success, all on my own, deadline in a little under two months? Sign me in. Well a few people whose opinion in these matters I respect say I oughta try it so. Sure! Why not. Great opportunity. Will give me a first experience. Thinking about my five-year plan can't be a bad idea anyway. What, Christmas vacation? Oh well, who needs Christmas vacation anyway, as long as one can spare a couple days to hang out with family.


Wednesday 31 December 2014
in Travel Stories

2014: A Year in Travels


Lens. From Greek antiques to Art Deco.

Amsterdam. A room full of girls on the top floor of a very narrow house. Rembrandt, Chagall and Constant. Canals shining under the sun. Hot mint.

Toulouse. So much rain. Giving a talk in my wet socks. Cake and tea. Books, books, books, so many books. The whirlwind of an evening from here to there, chatting freely with people I had just met, having fun. Breakfast in the sun.


Germanland. A room that hasn't changed over the years. Work. Schubert on the piano. Aperol-Spritz on the main square. A long theater rehearsal. A party, me in my striped dress, stories, confessions, hugs, and love. Ice cream alongside the river. Feeling at home.

Southern France. I didn't know it, but this was to be the last time I saw my grandmother.

Germanland, again. More work. Feeling warm and loved as an old friend fusses around me, feeding me food, coffee, music and books. A ride on the river. An evening at the theater. Hugs.

Porto. Music, food, sunshine, a ride on the river, the decaying beauty of an old town, photos of that same town taken from behind windows. A crown of flowers on my head. Port. All of it in great company.

London. Canals, water, pubs, sunshine, Indian food with a Californian friend.

Cambridge. Beers near the water. The best little girl in the entire world. Photo shoots. Indian food with a lots of people I never met before and a few I've loved for what feels like forever. More sunshine, pubs and water.


Southern France. Meeting the most fantastic puppy in the entire world. Swimming outside. Managing to neither melt nor burn in the sun. Thinking, fleetingly, about running away from it all and write absurd novels.

Picardie. Fires and shooting stars.

Stockholm. Science. Great science, awesome science, terrible science. Science in hallways, science at breakfast tables, science around beers, science in rooms where we sneaked in. Some of the best conversations around food and beer I've ever had. The fantastic Scandinavian light at sunset. Reindeer and sea lions. Telling stories.

Southern France. Two round trips in one week to see my grandmother die and bury her. A warm puppy licking the tears off my face. Hugging my cousin for the first time ever and wondering whether we'll ever let go.


San Diego. Sunshine, water, good food and beers. And cool science and friends. I'm starting to see a theme here.

Tunisia. No Internet. No decisions to make. The Mediterranean, sunshine, desert sand, oases, palm trees, camels, Roman ruins, and dates. Probably what saved me from burning out.

Germanland. Curling up with my feet under myself, liters of tea, a few beers, theater, boardgames, and good friends wrapping me in their arms.

Southern France. Family, minus one. Mixing traditions from Provence, Morocco, and Germany. The sun on my face and a warm puppy on my belly.

You know, I could convince myself it was a good year.

Saturday 25 October 2014
in I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

That Blurry Fog

How did it start? I couldn't say. Do these things ever have a clear way of starting? The first time I laid my eyes on him I didn't think much of it and that kept happening for quite a number of times, until... until... When did it start? During this week where we spent a lot of time just the two of us together, I suppose, although of course we'd set the ground before—how else would we have gotten to spend a lot of time just the two of us together?

I can't even say exactly what started. Something dancing on the edge of a friendship meant to last. Paying attention when his eyes are twinkling. My heart sometimes beating a bit faster when I see him. Being able to draw comfort from his presence only.


Monday 14 July 2014
in Dear Diary

Reasons I cried today

  1. My back was still hurting when I woke up.
  2. My back was hurting when I washed the dishes.
  3. I miss Germany.
  4. France celebrates its national day with a military parade. And fireworks and concerts and speeches. But mostly a military parade.
  5. My back hurt.
  6. Someone pushed me in the corridors of the metro even though I was limping my way through, feeling sorry for myself.
  7. Someone wrote on Twitter that Germans don't understand sarcasm. I miss my sarcastic German friends and their dry humour.
  8. I remembered that one time when my friend told me he was going to "leave science and become a lab administrator, or technician", and I enthusiastically told him this was great, that this wasn't leaving science at all, and that it made me happy to know he knew what he wanted to do after his PhD, and he told me I was the first person not to berate him for not wanting to become a professor.
  9. My back hurt and no one gave a shit.
  10. The war between Israel and Palestine.
  11. I still miss Tel Aviv even though I'm glad not to be there now.
  12. I can't configure Facebook to stop telling me about people's birthdays. It's written right here in the upper right corner, Facebook! I don't need an extra notification and I especially don't need to see all the meaningless messages other people left them. 12 people took 3.5 seconds each to type in "Happy Birthday!!" and 23 others only used one exclamation mark? Fascinating.
  13. I need Facebook like a fish needs a bicycle but I don't know how else to keep up with quite a few people I enjoy keeping up with.
  14. I'm tired and my. back. hurts.

Chronic (back) pain is emotionally exhausting, y'all.

Tuesday 1 July 2014
in Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

Life's Alright: A List.

Fifty things I did in June. In alphabetical order.


Tuesday 11 March 2014

Of Small Contributions

You guys.

I've reviewed a paper recently.

In my review, I pointed out what I thought to be a major flaw in the approach proposed by the authors, and suggested a method that would circumvent that problem and probably not be much slower (it was important that this algorithm be real fast).

Normally, in that scenario, one of two things happen: either I misunderstood the approach, and the authors kindly point out that Reviewer 3 is out of her mind and shouldn't be allowed in a five-mile radius from science, or the paper ends up rejected, possibly after the authors devoted three-quarter of a page of their response to shabby arguments that try to justify why they won't try out any of the suggestions made by the reviewers.

I just got the response to the reviewers.

Something magical happened.

The authors took my comment seriously. They implemented the approach I was suggesting. They found out that it performed better than theirs (including in terms of runtime!). They admitted to it. They profusely thanked me for the suggestion. They removed their flaky algorithm from their paper and replaced it with mine.

It feels like seeing a unicorn pooping rainbows, or whichever Internet imagery you want to use.

Like, wow, science. As it should be done.

Cherry on top: it's an open access journal that also practices open peer review. While I was worried my comments would lead the authors to poison my beer at the next conference at which we meet, this actually mean that not only to they get a (slightly) better paper out of it, but I also still get some credit.

I contributed.

In the meanwhile, on FB, someone whose child has leukemia is blaming everyone from the government to researchers for the ordeal her little girl is going through.

I do what I can, okay.

Saturday 4 January 2014
in Dear Diary


So. 2014, eh.

Well the bathroom at work still smells like vomit and the sink is still clogged and I do not like to give too much thought about the possible correlation between those two events. And someone (me?) should tell my French male coworkers that in other countries, men clean up their messes in common areas and their dicks didn't fall out. Yes, I checked personally on a few selected subjects.

To tell the truth I am more relieved that 2013 is over than excited about 2014. It has been an extremely rewarding year (hello Paris, hello dream job, hello great friendships, hello dance and music) but mostly I need a vacation. In the sun. Near water with nothing else to do than read, swim, eat grilled fish and fresh salads, dance, and drink cocktails with friends. Someone should take me to Greece asap. Instead of that I am working on two deadlines for the end of next week.

So this is what I'm dreaming of for the coming year. Sun, relaxation, peacefulness. Laughing with like-minded people who won't question my life choices, won't prefer politics to solid science, won't lie to me ever. Dancing near the water with my feet in the sand.

And clean bathrooms.

Have a sweet, happy, delightful, fabulous year, y'all.

Oh, and yeah. I've redone the paint around here.

Monday 25 November 2013
in Dear Diary

It Takes an Ocean not to Break

Today was the day nothing worked out. My phone / Internet access is a tangled mess of technical services that keep asking me whether I've plugged the yellow cable in the yellow plug (it's called an Ethernet cable, and yes it is plugged in the Ethernet port for goodness sake). I can't reach the people who're supposed to deliver my bedroom closet and they don't call me back. I didn't have all the necessary documents to purchase a public transportation card. I went to a hairdresser at random and ended up looking like I'm wearing a bad quality wig. Also, the product she used itches and stinks.


Tuesday 13 August 2013
in Blogging Matters

Happy 10, Dotclear!


What is Dotclear?

Dotclear, the little blog engine that could, is an open source content management software. I've started playing with it a few years after I started blogging, fed up that I was with the lack of flexibility of the online platforms I'd been using until then, and I never went back—how could I? From its start, a little over four years ago, AmRhaps in English has been powered by Dotclear as well.

More than a tool, though, Dotclear is also a community of amazing people. I met them on the forums when trying to figure out how to make this thing here have that behavior there, on their blogs, on twitter, and then, for some of them, in real life. Year after year, Dotclear has been a growing part of my blogging experience... so when, last month, Kozlika sent a cry for help and called for contributions, I didn't hesitate before signing up. I'm now proud to be part of the team, however so modestly, as an occasional tester and, more reliably, one of the English voices of Dotclear, both on twitter and on the blog (where I even comment in my broken but cheerful German if needed).

Happy birthday, Dotclear, and here's to another ten years!

Monday 17 December 2012
in Sweet Sister Mercy

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

More than half the reactions to the I am Adam Lanza's mother piece I see are of the "Please help this woman get her child committed" variety.

It's fascinating how an article that I've seen shared by people claiming to advocate for better mental care and fighting the stigma against mental diseases actually ends up reinforcing the stereotype of mentally sick = violent = budding mass murderer / serial killer.

So, a few things.

(1) As far as I know, we have no idea what kind of mental troubles Adam Lanza had or didn't have.

(2) No, not every child that's prone to violent outbursts is going to become a mass murderer.

(3) Actually, most people with mental illness are more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator of violence. Tadaaa!

(4) I've never been violent myself, but boy am I glad that none of my parents thought it a good idea, back when I was thirteen, to write for the world to see about how horrible it was to deal with me and how I was going to become a violent killer.

(5) What does the kid think of all that? Who knows? Who cares? From this article, not his mother.

(6) P.S. Adam Lanza had a father.

Saturday 15 December 2012
in Travel Stories


A long, if very incomplete, list of things that happened to me in the past two weeks. Suggested soundtrack: Surf Rock.


Tuesday 27 November 2012
in Travel Stories

California Bound

Boing, boing, boing, boing, boing!

November is almost over, and once I've survived the next 60 hours[1], I'll be in a plane to London, shortly followed by a plane to Los Angeles.

There will be sun, the ocean, great friends, and my favorite lady in all of America; then my favorite conference, set in a location I'm not sure I trust but as long as it features a beautiful lake and a hotel sauna and swimming pool, I'm pretty sure we'll be alright; and more sun, ocean, and my favorite physicists as a finale before flying back to Germanlandia. And yes, there's a reason "favorite" was featured three times in the same sentence.

Plock-plock, my dears, and fare thee well!


[1] Let's see... proofread a very important, 18-pages document; finish putting a research project together, and other shenanigans related to the first phase of my application to faculty positions in France; three meetings; three talks to attend; a goodbye dinner; an orchestra rehearsal; pack; clean the flat for some insurance visit; finish reviewing a 30-page paper; consolidate my code with that of a colleague who still hasn't send anything; ensure my poster is printed and in the appropriate poster tube; a gazillion administrative things; pick up a package at the post office; get my hair cut. Yeah, I'm almost there. Good thing I'm amped up.

Saturday 3 November 2012
in Dear Diary

It's Hard to Hold a Candle in the Cold November Rain

Last week it snowed. The city turned cold, wet, slippery and gloomy. With wind blowing packs of snow in our legs and faces, crossing the bridge, once a highlight of the way to the old town, became an ordeal. Not twenty-four hours later Daylight Saving Time kicked in, and the sun, or whatever was left of it, started to set in the middle of the afternoon. The temperature rose a little, and the sun started shining again a few hours a day; but thus so royally announced, November started.

I don't know if it's the family tradition, my Mediterranean, sun-thirsty roots, or a more generic light sensitivity seasonal autumn blues funk, but my brain is definitely not impressed. Darkness has descended upon us? Let's get in a dark mood then.

Every day that I don't cry is a victory. Every few hours that I don't feel like crying are a victory. They don't come easy. Most of the time, I feel lonely, abandoned, not good enough, hopeless, and fighting off those emotions is a constant, harrowing battle. I write todo lists and check off items with rage-fueled strikes. I force myself to go out for walks when the sun is out, to go swimming every few days, to play my viola, to fight the urge to hide under the covers and be social instead. I've even joined #digiwrimo, to help kicking my writing muscles into gear. But it seems that as soon as I let my guard down, the negative feelings creep back.

I accept every opportunity to go out, from concerts to talks and glasses of wine to dinners. In the course of a few days, I've order Lebanese food to go after work and huddled up with a friend in her small kitchen, where we downed it with liters of hot tea while talking about the future and its uncertainties; I've shared one of the best pizzas in town with a concerned American right after Sandy stormed through the East Coast—and a mere days away from the presidential election; I've participated in a Scandinavian quest to find good German red wine; I've been to the pool twice, and of course to one orchestra rehearsal. Still I've had two meltdowns, have snapped at a colleague I never snap at, and have spent quite an inordinate amount of time solely focusing on quieting down the little inner voice which insists that I am worthless.

Yesterday, I saw Berlin Telegram. It tells the story of a woman's fight to reconstruct her life after a heartbreak, and it is beautiful. A few minutes in I had forgotten that I ended up alone at the theater, and how hard it was not to let my heart sink when friend after friend apologized for not coming—a downside of last minute plans. I joined a few people for drinks afterwards. We raised our glasses to winter. "It will be long and cold," said our impromptu toast master. "And dark," I added. We clinked glasses on that. He and I drank and danced late in the night, talking about the grace of Greece's light, the bitterness of love, the protective barriers we erect, his now ablated cancerous tumor. So misery loves company, but it was oddly beautiful, this conversation half drowned in music, through his half-hearted smiles and my bitten back tears.

I am well surrounded, in fact, and even if it's not easy, I have the tools to fight. So hear that, November? You won't get me. And on your last day I'll be off to California, and I won't even care if six of the days I'll spend there will be in a skiing (and casinos...) resort.

Saturday 20 October 2012
in Sweet Sister Mercy

Hello! I'm Right in Front of You

I am sitting at dinner with researchers. To my right, a professor who collaborates with all of us to some extent. To his right, a guy from Northern Germany. Across from us, three Japanese men. Our host is from Eastern Europe. "I quite enjoy working with Japanese people," says the professor. 'In the future, I'm envisioning collaborating only with Japanese and Bavarian scientists."

I am having coffee with colleagues. "I always look at people's A levels before I hire them. I don't trust people with poor A levels to become researchers," says one of them. I slowly sip up my coffee, wondering whether I should remind him that my A levels were piss poor (but better than those of at least one of his students).

I am drinking beer with people from the department. "It's a pity most of the new female PhD students are so ugly," says one of them. "Although pretty girls have it so easy, everything falling in their open arms... until they turn 30," he adds while I choke on my Beck's. "Do you mean I'm ugly or do you mean I don't deserve being where I am?" I ask. He laughs it away. (But of course, this is an isolated incident and us women and feminists are getting our collective panties in a hysterical bunch over absolutely nothing instead of worrying about serious things such as war rape and world hunger.)

This thing you do, with your brain, that supposedly got you to where you are right now, a respected member of the scientific community, with a truckload of prestigious degrees and insightful publications to back you up? Would you really mind applying it to everyday conversation as well? Or is empathy so completely out of your range of skills that there's no hope you'll ever realize you're being offensive?

Sunday 9 September 2012
in Travel Stories


I am back.

I am back in a place where the nights are chilly, the sky not really blue and sunscreen unnecessary.

Here no road smells like fig leaves, no cicadas nor crickets chirp so loudly that conversation is useless, no fields of olive trees adorn the flanks of otherwise bare mountains, no tree bends under the weight of lemons or oranges, no one uses donkeys to carry heavy loads.

No one has lunch at 2pm, no one sells watermelons from the back of an old truck, the fish does not come to the market still alive in large buckets of water, peaches are imported, pastry shops don't smell like honey and almonds and cinnamon and don't remind me of my great-grand-mother saying mange, c'est bon pour le mariage, ma fille.

There are neighborhood parties, where no one comes to with their own musical instrument, where nobody grills meat, where no one drinks coffee, and where the longest food line is always at the tried-and-tested wurst place.

Old men aren't playing cards or backgammon in the streets; old women don't gather on the benches in front of churches or mosques; men don't wear silver bracelets.

Cars are well maintained, the streets are clean and there are rules and schedules to follow, failing which someone will get red in the face and complain loudly.

Cats and dogs don't go far from their home and owners and none of them are strays. Nobody pets an animal that's not theirs before asking for permission first. The permission is not always granted.

Music never departs from the minor and major scales.

There are no impossibly blue waters, no palm trees, no bougainvillea, no pomegranates, no oleander, no pine trees. Little here reminds me of my hometown, of the Riviera backcountry, of the streets of Tel-Aviv or Casablanca, of the mountains of Andalusia, of the bazaars in Istanbul, of the sea shore in Tangier.

I am back from Greece, where I felt, through a concentrated exposure to a startling number of elements of what I consider my culture, more at home than in my hometown itself, and I weep.


P.S. I'm actually much better today than I was a few days ago, when I was alternatively crying and positively fuming at being back in Germanland. I have, however, confirmed that one of the best answer I can give to the "Where are you from" question is "the Mediterranean".

I read

Mostly detective stories. Occassionally, weird fantasy, theater, or Chinese literature in Italian (I have fantastic friends), real well-written books.

I listen to

Mof Montreal, Caravan Palace, the Ditty Bops, Dango Reinhardt, the National, Minor Majority, Léo Ferré, Beethoven, Sonny Rollins, Laura Marling, Erlend Øye, Hjaltalin, Sufjan Stevens, Yuri Bashmet. And others.

I am

late, I'm late, I'm late for a very important date, delighted by Oscar Wilde (One should always be a little improbable), a little improbable, still very much of a bloody leftist, heathen atheist, and a woman scientist.

Deep Thought

'To leave is to die a little. But to die is to leave a lot' (translated from French)
[Alphonse Allais]

(Almost) Legal Mentions

(Dammit this one joke only works in French. You're missing out.)
Not recommended for children under 36 months.
Please handle carefully.
Beware of the kitty.
Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.*
* Strike out if inapplicable