Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Taste of Happiness

Karel and I have always wanted a house with a backyard, so that we might have a vegetable garden without the mess of dirt all over the patio (from re-potting plants) and chickens.  Chickens, yes:  for some reason, I am unaccountably attracted to the buggers, for all that they are bossy and loud and will scratch lush pasture land to bare earth if given half a chance. Of course, the delight of freshly-laid eggs is another major bonus, especially if it means I don't have to run out to the supermarket every time I want to make a cake.

I'd only ever heard of how wonderful fresh eggs are.  The eggs you get from the supermarket, I've been assured, taste nothing like a good, fresh egg.  It's like eating applesauce and claiming you've just had a fresh, juicy apple (and supermarket apples that are actually fresh and juicy are difficult enough to find).

Our friend Jasper has a small but rapidly-expanding flock of chickens (5 hens, one rooster, and 5 fluffy chicks).  To hear him talk about breeding, chicken behavior, feeding the little squawkers, flock dynamics, etc., it's easy to understand how "Oh, we'll just have a few" can end up being a full-time hobby.  There are times when his hens produce so many eggs that it's all he can do to give them away to whoever will take them.  So when he came to visit on Friday, he shoved a carton of eggs into my hands.

Scrambled eggs never tasted so good.

It wasn't a huge difference in the taste, or the texture (which has more to do with how you cook them--don't scramble too often, be gentle with the heat).  But the subtle increase in, well, "egg-iness" was definitely noticeable, and very tasty.  Also, the yolks were floridly yellow, rather than the deep orange-yellow that the eggs here usually take on.  I haven't cracked the two smaller eggs--from his "mostly Sussex, a bit of everything else" chickens--yet, but I think it'll happen soon, either in hard-boiled form or an omelet.  Eggs this tasty deserve better than getting mixed into pancake batter.

I'm not sure if chickens can be "happy", the way humans are.  I mean, animals obviously don't have the same sort of sentience that humans do.  But if there was ever a case for being nice to chickens, fresh eggs are definitely it.  I don't eat enough meat to be able to discern whether this is also true for "Eko" flesh-products, but it does seem to allay Karel's conscience about his animal consumption, and I prefer not to eat stuff that has been injected/medicated/filled with hormones while housing a growing humanoid.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Forgotten (Part 2 of 4)

So finally, Part 2 of 4.  I find the use of some Dutch-isms by Bouke to be strange because they're rather unexpected--or rather, I should say, it's a good thing I'm not the one doing the Dutch translation.  

Nigel couldn't remember what happened after. Maybe they talked about petunias. But at some point in the evening he awoke to the bell ringing, and found that Peter had gone, the tea cups had been put away, and on the end table, the gun sat gloomily atop a pile of fifty-pound notes.

Perhaps I'd made the whole thing up, he thought, as he got up to answer the door. Yes, that's it. I'd fallen asleep while reading a book and merely dreamt the whole thing. But he knew that there was no book, and that the gun was real. Real enough, anyway. He couldn't recall having handled it, but he did remember,  somehow, the weight, and the smell of the metal.

It was his neighbor, Glenda Parrish. She was a young mother, pretty enough if you liked waifish women who looked as if they could be blown away with a strong cough. She was a stripper at some upscale club in the heart of the Financial District. She'd been married, but the bloke had died or left her—it didn't matter. The neighbors scowled at her and covered their children's eyes when she passed by. Her twin boys, six years old, were forever running in mud and breaking fences, and she always seemed positively translucent with exhaustion. “Why Glenda, come in,” he said, trying to hide his relief. A simple, mundane problem—a misplaced shoe, perhaps, something to wake him up, dispel the oppressive puzzle of Peter Gatsby.

“I'd love to, but I can't,” Glenda said. He saw, as she stepped closer and under the lamp, that her eyes were red. “My boys are missing.”

Nigel blinked. “But how--”

“You've helped us so many times before,” Glenda said, her voice breaking. “Oh God, just please--”

“Have you called the police?” 

She nodded, fighting back yet another wave of sobs. “They're going door-to-door,” she said, “making inquiries. But—I don't know—I just have a feeling—they're not here, you know? I don't feel them around. I just—I'm making this up,” she said, laughing, crying, at the same time. “It sounds so ridiculous.”

Nigel nodded absently. He was listening—well, not really “listening”, exactly. Things didn't speak—they never did. He'd never known the word for it—that cross between listening and feeling and smelling that he used to find inanimate objects. Inanimate objects didn't emit anything, other than the information that passed through them. Once they got used to a particular set of information, anything disturbing the set—being lost, for instance—would trigger what could only be described as confusion. His particular talent was to have figured out how to access that information, how to use it. So he wasn't ashamed to have hissed to the boys, when he caught them destroying his rose bushes, “I know what you do to each other when your mother's asleep!”

They left him alone after that, but otherwise they were proper little hellions, and neighbors with missing cats scrupulously avoided their yard. Nigel found their trail quickly enough, but it wasn't until Glenda started sobbing again that he made up his mind to follow it. He'd be hypocritical if he didn't, after all his tsk-ing at the atrocious manners of today's youth.

“It's not ridiculous,” he said, after a moment. “Let me get my hat and a few things, and let's go look for your boys.”

She looked so relieved that he thought she might faint, but she didn't. He left her leaning against the doorframe while he went into his house and fished out the things he needed: a compass, some granola bars, his wallet, some money, an umbrella. He put these all into his messenger bag, which also contained a first-aid kit, a length of cord, and a Swiss Army knife. As he passed through his living room, he saw the gun. He put it into his bag as well, not quite knowing why, but feeling that it wouldn't be a bad idea. The weight—the knobbed handle—settled easily into his hand. There was something trying to come back to him—a memory he'd lost somewhere—but he brushed it away. He had two lost boys to find.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Happier tales

And on to better things, since everything is out of my hands now.  I've done what I could to get the ball rolling on the plagarism matter.  And if it happens to turn into an avalanche, well...overall, though, I can say that I'm satisfied with the steps the university has taken so far in pursuing this matter, and I just hope that An and I can resolve this before it gets much further.

For several years, now, I've received invitations for a fiction writing contest in Philadelphia Stories, but this is the first time that the contest rules have allowed people "originally from the US" to enter.  Up until now, I had been stuck with stories that I wanted to enter but couldn't, owing to my expat status.

Fear not, Bouke, I will not be entering "Forgotten".  

But it does make me somewhat optimistic about another short story I've written, titled "Made" (I'm a one-word  person, apparently), finally seeing the light of day.  Being almost twice as long as "Forgotten", and three times more layered, has made me wary of submitting it anywhere, since word count limits are rather strict.  It remains, after all these years on my hard drive, one of my favorite pieces that I've ever written--delightfully tragic, in every sense of the word.  That being said, it still requires a substantial bit of editing, and to get myself "in the game" of writing fiction again, I've been reading a lot of fiction.  In no particular order:

Perfume:  the Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind:  Strangely metaphysical, beautifully written, and, as in the movie, you're left with a disquieting sense of unease about what it means to pursue beauty.

Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan:  Not my usual choice of authors, for all that I loved The Joy Luck Club.  For a while she was writing these stories about women who'd been through unthinkable tragedies, heartache, pain, suffering--in small doses, it is riveting stuff.  In large quantities, it numbs you to the sadness of everyday existence.  So when I picked up this book, it was because it wasn't the "usual":  eleven tourists on a mishap-ridden trip to Burma disappear without a trace.  They are being followed by the spirit of the woman who was supposed to be their tour guide.  Surprisingly free from a lot of gruesome things (at least, until the very end), it is a wonderful meditation on the consequences of intentions.

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler:  Again, not my usual choice.  This was a book that I'd chosen from the stack of books that Dan and Amanda were going to get rid of before moving back to the US.  Snarky, snappy, 1930s-detective fun.  But while I loved the language and the excitement--gunfights! blackmail! sexy cars! naked women!--the big reveal, the moment when you find out how everything links together, was a bit of a disappointment.  I'm not sure why--perhaps it was because everything was so mysterious, and then to have what was essentially base human desires at the bottom of it all, with a mental-illness copout, just sort of puts a damper to things.

The One from the Other, by Phillip Kerr:  Also from the pile of about-to-be discards of Dan and Amanda. I was surprised that I could enjoy it so much, given the era--post-Marshall Germany--and the guilt that books set in that time period usually entail.  I found Bernie Gunther's amorality to be, ironically enough, the most moral of the entire lot of characters.  And I must say, the plot lines were ingenious.  It has also done the almost-impossible, which was to get me curious about the other Bernie Gunther books.

Smart Swarm:  Using Animal Behavior to Change our World, by Peter Miller:  Technically this doesn't count as fiction, because it's not.  But it's what I call "science-lite"--science written with a general audience in mind, and therefore skimming over things such as flaws in the data, exceptions, and, perhaps the most glaring omission of all, is the dangers of mob mentality (he does touch on the subject, but stops short of drawing a clear line between utilizing a smart swarm and falling victim to "everybody's doing it").  That being said, it is a fascinating read and offers surprising insights into how stupid animals--ants, termites, fish--do incredibly smart things.  And it makes those cute little quadrotors that much more creepy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Going for Gold

First or fourth?  That is the question.

An Moens finally contacted the JMCC editor late Sunday night about adding me to the list of authors.  She has proposed putting me down as the fourth author.  Part of me just wants to accept this and move on, but I can't help but think that this would screw me over in the future, mostly because a freelance science copyeditor who can lay claim to having written and published a review on doxorubicin-induced cardiomyopathy is a lot more impressive than one who can't.  And that's the problem with being fourth:  I would never be able to say that I wrote it.

Scientific publications are funny that way.  It doesn't matter how many authors are on it, the first author is the one who gets the prestige for writing it, the last author is the one who gets the recognition for coaxing brilliance out of the first author, and everybody else sort of floats about the middle, added depending on their level of contribution or, in some cases, the state of laboratory/departmental/institutional/field politics.

I'm not after prestige, not exactly.  I do feel that since most of the work is demonstrably and clearly mine, and the contributions of the others are so secondary, that anything less than first would be a sham.  Furthermore, I had worked on this for about a year with the expectation of being first author on it, barring exceptional changes being made--i.e., that the text was mostly someone else's, that a lot more editing had been done on it.  I have honored such expectations held by others--I do not insist on authorship, or even acknowledgement (I do insist on getting paid, these days, which I consider compensation enough) on the papers that I edit and sometimes contribute more to, word-wise, than the original text.  I'm not one to quibble about authorship order over a paragraph or two.  But as I mentioned elsewhere, most of the text is copy-pasted directly from my draft, and the parts that are not copy-pasted directly from my draft have received minor, mostly cosmetic, edits, at best.  

I also feel that the time to quibble over author order--a time when I might have accepted second or even third--was when the papers were being filled out for the publication process.  I was never contacted by anybody about it, nor was I ever told that the review had been published (I had to discover this for myself, in a "Hmm, I wonder if that's out yet" round of PubMed). She, herself, has admitted that she should have done this, so why didn't she?  The implications of her silence--that I would never know, or that if I did, I would be unable to prove anything--are quite dastardly.  Furthermore, I have given her every opportunity to say that this was a lapse in her judgment, that this was a mistake and should be corrected as soon as possible.  Instead, she has elected to insist that this was a joint decision reached by careful deliberation on behalf of all of the co-authors (something which I don't believe for a nanosecond, and at least one of the co-authors has since written me saying that he had no idea this had happened).  That she waited until after I had blogged about this, contacted the dean, her colleagues, the co-authors, and one of the ethics committees at Maastricht (the wrong one, it turned out, oops), leads me to believe that this is merely an attempt to smooth over the sh*tstorm before the fraud committee--the dean forwarded everything I sent him to the fraud committee--comes to their own conclusions about it.

And finally:  I've got nothing to lose by insisting on first-author.  If we cannot come to an agreement, I end up not being able to claim that I'd written a review--which is exactly the same predicament I'd be in by accepting fourth author.  If I insist on first, then I might just get it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Naming Names

I'm normally pretty discreet about what I do, what my name is, who I work for, etc.  If I have a problem at work, you won't hear about it from me.  If I have issues with a client, it's mum on my end.  You could, if you tried hard enough, figure out all of that stuff about me, but I don't think I'm that interesting.  But every now and then an issue so egregious arises that it leaves me little choice but to name names and get Ugly.

In 2009 I started a job at the University of Maastricht, working for Dr. An Moens.  It was not a joy, but the actual trials and tribulations of working at Maastricht are neither here nor there in this story.  Dr. Moens gave me a review to edit, to add to, to write the second half of, etc.  It started as a 10-page paper.  By the time I left Maastricht, it had become this burgeoning, 26-page, 11,000+ word monster.  

When I left Maastricht, the paper had not yet been published, but that didn't surprise me:  Most journals have a 3-6000 word limit on their reviews. I assumed that it would be worked on, whittled down, and made suitable for publication in its own good time, as these things are.  I knew (and expected) that my name would be bumped down the author list, if that many changes were made to it.  

What I did not expect was that my name would be dropped from the author list, entirely.  The Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology lists Octavia Y., Tochetti C.G., Gabrielson K.L., Janssens S., Crijns H.J., Moens A.L. as authors.  I was a bit shocked, a bit lived--okay, extremely livid--so I wrote an email to the editor in chief at JMCC and asked him what the hell was going on.

The EIC at JMCC was kind enough to send me the PDF of the review.  I compared the published version of the review to my last version, which I'd saved to my gmail account.  Lo and behold:  they're almost the same.  Shorter by spades, of course, but almost the same, otherwise.  I told the EIC I wanted authorship.  He said he'd have to see what An Moens had to say for herself.

Well, An decided to address me:  and she said, basically, that I didn't do any of the work involved in writing the review.  Um, hello?  I ONLY FRICKIN' WROTE MOST OF IT!  Even a child could see that the published version and the 11,000 word monster are almost the same.  All of my turns-of-phrase are there, all of the studies I cited, all of the weird mechanisms I found.  If anybody wants to do a comparison between my last version of the review and published one, I'd be delighted to send you my last version.  I'd have done a side-by-side split screen of the two, but it's so long and so much of it is identical to my last version that, frankly, you'd never see the end of this blog.  She also claims to have discussed this with all of the other co-authors, which I very much doubt--if she had, I'm sure that most of them wouldn't have agreed to this forgery.

Again, I don't like being this public about what I do and who I work(ed) for, but I can't let this stand.  If she'd modified it more, if she'd added a whole new section, wrote parts anew, I might not have minded.  But this is such a blatant act of plagarism that I simply will not be silenced about this.  It is so wrong on so many levels I have to rewire my brain to comprehend how wrong it is.

Yes, I am out for justice.  And by God, I will have it.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

We Gaan Wandelen!

The funny thing about the Netherlands is that because it's so flat as a whole, anything bigger than a pile of dog crap gets elevated into a hill, and hills by any other standard become mountains.  St. Pietersberg, in Maastricht, is a scant 171 meters high at its highest point, and is best known for being the end of the Pieterpad, as series of hikes you can do (at once, or over the course of several weeks/months) that runs from the Pieterburen, in the Waddenkust in Groningen, to St. Pietersberg.  Tourists from all over the world descend upon Philadelphia to run up the steps of the Art Museum, a la Rocky Balboa--it's sort of the same thing with St. Pietersberg.  It's the Dutch equivalent of the Appalachian trail, without the whole death-by-bear bit.

So St. Jansberg isn't, despite the suffix, actually a mountain, except by dint of comparison to, say, Friesland.  And it's much smaller than St. Pietersberg, topping out between 66 and 77 m in height (so says Wikipedia), a decent invigorating stroll for brisk days like yesterday.  We rode our bikes out to Sint Jansberg, which is literally the next hill over from the Mookerheide.  A short stroll will take you from the Bisseltsebaan, which is the unpaved road that connects the houses in the area, through some farmland that would do hobbits proud, to the foot of the "mountain".  It's interesting to see these vast expanses of empty green space, and contemplate the fact that you're in one of the most densely-populated countries in the world.

It makes for a nice way to spend the afternoon, provided that you are prepared for metabolic emergencies.  I had thought to bring a granola bar, to offset the likelihood that I would get hit with the munchies at some point, but it turned out that Karel,  his blood sugar low to start with and fading fast by the top of the mountain, needed it first.  We ended up having lunch at 't Zwaantje, the little restaurant that serves the area and makes a killing on tired and hungry wandelaars who don't mind paying a few euros if it means they don't have to bring a picnic basket.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Forgotten (Part 1 of 4)

You can find the (most excellent) Dutch translation here.

Other people had ordinary talents, like playing the piano or finding prime numbers. Nigel West's talent was finding things. Lost keys, dried cobras, puzzling particles: if it existed, he'd find it, and bring it to you, wrapped neatly in brown paper and professionally tied with twine. Or not—some things, like memories and cats, were never truly lost and would come back on their own or not at all, he'd explain, and offer a tissue for the invariable sniffles that followed.

That was the premise he worked under, he'd explain at dinner parties, thrown by grateful clients for whom he'd recovered a lost diamond, a painting—once there had been a Rolls Royce. The owner sent him a bottle of champagne every year, to mark the anniversary of that particular triumph, though for Nigel it hadn't been particularly hard to find: the car was confused and couldn't make heads or tails of where it was. Lost things, he'd tell an astounded crowd, want to be found. You just had to know how to hear them.

He had reasonable fees: a few quid for keys, textbooks. Lost dogs were a bit more—dogs almost always wanted to be found—and lost cars (stolen cars, really, but the cars themselves didn't make that distinction) were a few hundred. For people it depended on the family—he was not entirely without scruples and wouldn't dream of charging for finding a missing child, but if they wanted to give him a monetary reward, he wasn't above accepting compensation. And travel expenses, of course: the Tube wasn't that costly but it was a risk for such a frail old man to go it alone, especially what with the hooligans running amok these days.

Every now and then he'd get someone from the theaters ringing the bell to his tidy little home in south London, desperate for some prop that they didn't have or couldn't make. He relished these assignments—could he find them a bezoar of goat? Thirteen differently-colored saddle shoes? Dessicated chickens? He didn't disappoint. Word got around. Payment upon delivery.

The man that approached his drive today looked to be the theater-prop-searching kind of client. He wore a cap, pulled down over his eyes, and a full face of long black beard. Nigel stood behind the relative safety of his lace curtains, watching this bear of a man—for he was very tall, and dressed in a long black overcoat and heavy coal-boots, blackened with soot—make his way up his drive. Apprehension crept up on his stomach like a cat, padding at his belly before settling in for good. The scuff marks would take days to polish out of his hardwood floors.

The bell rang. It seemed louder than usual, and Nigel fairly jumped out of his skin. He didn't realize just how much he dreaded this man entering his home until he had to let the man in. There wasn't much point in pretending not to be in, though—his bicycle was leaning against the rosebush. The man grunted a greeting and Nigel, struggling to hoist his coat onto the coat rack, pointed towards the chairs, hoping that their spindly legs could cope with such a massive man. The furniture creaked, but held. Nigel breathed a sigh of relief as he set up the tea tray. The tea cups were so fragile. He hoped they wouldn't be crushed in the man's hands.

“Tea, sir?” he asked.

“Yes, thank you,” the man said. He had curiously gray eyes. Nigel poured out two cups, and set a small butter cookie on the saucers. They each took a polite sip.

“Atrocious weather, isn't it?” Nigel said. The man had arrived during a gap in the showers, when the sky merely threatened to pour.

“It's not so bad,” the man replied. “Peter. Peter Gatsby.”

“And what can I find for you, Peter?” Nigel asked. There was no need to introduce himself. He had a plaque below the lamp outside that read, “N. West, Finder and Purveyor of All Things.” Furthermore, most of his new clients were referred to him by his old ones.

“I need a skull,” Peter said.

“Surely some theater must have some thing some where,” Nigel said.

“It's not just any skull, “ Peter said. “My, ah, client is particular about it.”

The apprehension moved from Nigel's stomach to his chest. He couldn't quite place what it was about Peter or the request that made him so uneasy about it. He'd found skulls (and stomachs, and even a splayed uterus, floating in formaldehyde, an egg of tissue surrounding a wrinkled alien) for stranger, more menacing characters before, but at the word “particular” all of the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. “Well, are you going to give me any details as to what it looks like?” he asked, finally.

“You'll know it when you find it,” the man said. He leaned forward, to reach behind him. “I was also told you give you this,” he said, extricating a large-bore revolver from the back of his belt.

“Is it that dangerous a job?” Nigel gasped. He didn't like guns. Never did—loud, crude things, rough, killing with a spatter of lead. Messy. He much preferred knives, himself.

“It's just a precaution,” Peter said. “We wouldn't want anything to happen to you prematurely.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


A while ago, I wrote a short story.  It was a pretty decent story, I thought, and I didn't hate it after it'd been sitting on my hard drive for two months.  I sent it to Bouke, who at the time was just starting up his online Dutch literary magazine, Hanta.  I never heard back from him about it, so I assumed that he was busy coding his website and putting together poems and stories and writing about literary events.  In any event, I was soon busy putzing about another lab again and the story sort of faded into the background of my memory. 
Then today, I got a message on Facebook:  the story was not only posted, but it was translated (and quite well).  If you want to read it, you can find the Dutch version here.  It is a very short story (3000 words, thereabouts), but it is a bit long to read in one sitting, so he's broken it up into four pieces.  I think he's captured the fussy and aesthetic air of Nigel West quite well.

Of course, I realize that not everybody reads Dutch.  So I will post the original text on Saturdays, linking back to the Dutch translation. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's been up

A lot, a little:  The Tweeb got sick again for three days.  Her usual illness, wherein she pukes and squits and hides in the closet and the only thing that saves her is rehydration via subQ fluids.  Even so, it was touch-and-go for an extra day, or three extra force-feedings, before she finally started not-hiding and eating on her own.

I've been giving her what we call "spoil the kitty food" all of Sunday.  STK food is a can of Gourmet Diamond food that comes in enticing flavors such as tuna-and-shrimp (in aspic) and beef (in sauce).  Normally the cats all get a can of STK once a week, on Saturdays, but in order to maintain her interest in food, and tempt her to eat again, I've resorted to outright bribery yesterday, much to Shadow's and Noodle's dismay and jealousy.  

After last night, when she demanded treats, we decided that she had recovered enough to go back on her normal diet, so this morning, it was breakfast as usual, except it was not "as usual"--she sniffed over her food and promptly ran to invade Shadow's dish.  Things never are, with cats.