Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My firecracker turns 6!

This was commissioned to mark her extraordinary
and uber funny imagination at 5 yo!

The big girl is 6 today, September 28. Everyone tells you that time will fly when your kids are young and you better embrace every minute of it. I want to believe that I did, and that I am still doing that. We've traveled together to Sesame Street, Neverland, to the Death Star and back. We've been in and out of black holes, and from inside a cake to inside the body on a magic school bus.

Every conversation with this girl is punctuated with "whys" and "hows". And I will never tire of answering her questions, or at least try the best I can; she can be very persistent! The years have been wonderful so far, and we can't wait for this next chapter as she starts kindergarten. My wish is that her curiosity will not be tempered, and that we can continue to nurture her imagination. 

Cheers to you, my dear!


Friday, September 2, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 4: Here's one for the Fashionista!

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. Coco Chanel
Read more at:
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
Read more at:
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.
Read more at:
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel. 

I was still recovering from last night's heavy fish and chips, so today was a day of light eating. I opted out of the lunch spread, and headed to the Manchester Art Gallery instead.  2 days ago, the sign outside showed that there's the an exhibit that featured how women's fashion silhouettes and social codes had changed when the men left for war in 1914 and the women were left behind to join the skilled trades and participate in military service. This meant new freedom and responsibilities for women. On top of this, they were featuring Vogue's 100 year celebration. It was definitely nothing like exhibits I've seen before at other museums.

I was hemming and hawing about going because I knew I'd have limited time. But this morning my newsfeed was filled with remembrance of Diana's death on August 31. In addition to being a people's princess in her time, she was also such a big fashion icon. That's the one nudge I heeded.

Since the museum is pretty big, I only focused on 2 exhibits; both made pretty big impression on me.

Fashion & Freedom

The 3rd one, I named the "inverse-corset".
At this exhibit, the displayed fashion art collection recognized women's physical capabilities and trials in the World War I era, highlighting how fashion was interwoven into the social and political history. One section was the epitome of ultimate show of freedom in fashion for me exposing breasts, knees (!) and lots of skin. A bit extreme, maybe, and nothing I'd wear.  Some women were required to work in munitions factories, which earned them the nickname "munitionettes", or canaries,  like the yellow songbirds, because the exposure to the explosives turned their skin yellow.  

Canary-inspired. I think I can actually wear this.

Since the 19th century, there was also transition to free the female body from constrictive corsets and frothy clothing that shows women as "ornament to men." After the First World War, out came the more natural silhouette that prioritized function. This exhibit reminded me of what women went through to gain independence, and I'll be looking at my wardrobe very differently.

Interpretation for women in aviation
Celebrating the Red Cross

Vogue 100
Vogue 100: A Century of Style will showcase the remarkable range of photography that has been commissioned by British Vogue since it was founded in 1916, with over 280 prints from the Condé Nast archive and international collections being shown together for the first time to tell the story of one of the most influential fashion magazines in the world.

The Vogue100 exhibit was free to view, but no pictures were allowed. I'm guessing for Copyright reasons. As I entered the foyer, I was greeted by a smiling picture of Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. She was on the 1st cover celebrating Vogue's 100th anniversary, the January 2016 issue. I walked my way back to the past, seeing familiar faces of Cate Blanchett wearing pompom headband, Kate Moss naked on a stallion, Prince Charles feeding chickens (!), Sofia Coppola in College (?), Gwynneth Paltrow and Kate Moss representing the 21st century. 

The 90s highlight for me was Princess Diana, the most photographed woman in the 20th century, beaming in a strapless gown and signature short hair. The 90s also featured the supermodels Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, etc.  There was also a cute photo of Winona Ryder in a tutu. And more Kate Moss.

The 80s' surprise for me was a 1982 picture of novelist Salmon Rushdie. He may not be such a big name then because Midnight Children just won the award in 1981.

HA! This redefines "Model Airplane" for me. 
Then there's this haunting picture from the 60s - A1967 photo highlighting technological revolution showing a model being chased by an airplane on the runway. This was definitely not Kate Moss.

The era that impressed me most, however, was the coverage during World War II. It was such a different Vogue. There's one photo that caught my eye particularly,'Rococo Rubble', which was a vintage photo from September 1945, described as "A defiant last stand at the University of the Philippines" featuring a statue of a man peppered with bullet holes from the war. It's not the photo one would associate with a fashion magazine, especially not Vogue.  

I learned that there's more to Vogue than pictures of pretty clothes and women. Main lesson for me - Don't judge a book, or a magazine, by it's cover.  What a truly great insight on the 100 years of fashion in history.

The day didn't end here, but my trip to Downton Abbey requires a separate post, so stay tuned.

*These photos from Vogue100 were all online.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 3: Pick your poison

With great powers come great responsibilities - Superman

I was up at 6 am this morning.  At first, I had this grand idea of going out for a run, but I remembered how I nearly got ran over by Mr. Speedy yesterday because the whole country is driving on the wrong side and I’m looking the opposite way! I felt safer on the treadmill.

After the early ran, I headed to my meeting pumped with adrenaline. I’m careful not to discuss conference contents here in my personal blog to avoid any possible conflicts of interest, so you can just imagine my delight when I found out about an added public engagement event. For this event, speakers from the conference were going to participate in a science panel discussion at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), and the event is open for non-scientists to attend. 

But before that - the MOSI. The MOSI itself was a delight.  I wanted to see the exhibit on graphene, which was isolated here at the University of Manchester.  For those who are not in the know, graphene is made of carbon, but 100x stronger than steel. Sadly, that exhibit closed early.   Still, there was a lot to take in at the open hall showing how Manchester was front and center in the industrial revolution in Europe, contributing to the Large Hadron Collider, developing ancient computers, mass spectrometry, and electron microscopes.  

This EM is ~6 ft tall cf. to the preset tabletop versions.

I volunteer as tester!
As for the panel discussion, it was very exciting, and I was quite disappointed when it ended.  I mean, we’re trying to solve real life problems here! The premise is this:
You are given charge of $50 Trillion to dedicate its entirety to an area of research that could eradicate 1 of 3 diseases.  Where would you put that fund – Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer, or Infectious Disease? 
The 3 experts (or caped crusaders) in the panel gave individual speeches trying to convince you on why you should rally behind their cause.  All the while, a 4th panelist, from big pharma was listening – presumably ready to swoop in and upscale. The audience got to deliberate among ourselves too.

Neuroman (Alzheimer’s Disease crusader) argued that there is nothing more devastating than living a lifestyle of one suffering from this debilitating disease or watching a loved one suffer through it.  Superbug lady (Infectious Disease, I can’t remember her superhero alias) argued that we need to continue the fight and race against drug resistance. Captain Cancer argued that research money could be invested to diagnostics that would let us know if we’re susceptible to the big C. Hmmm.  Would you want to know?

Tough choice for sure, and I’m really itching to share my choice and why, and what the majority voted for (not the same as mine, but I’m seldom with the majority on these issues ). However,  for the time being, I’ll keep those data  to myself.  I want to know what you think. Tell me.

Speaking of poisons...
I got beer educated too - English bitters and milds are not supposed to be chilled.

Proper Fish and Chips... my blood pressure was improper after this, I'm sure.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 2: A city built to last

It was a long work day today; so interesting to meet many bright minds and learn about cutting-edge research, but at 6:30 pm, I was mentally beat. My body, on the other hand, was restless, and I was raring to explore the city. Fortunately, Manchester is very compact and easy to navigate on foot.  So, I walked, walked and walked some more, making my Fitbit a very happy accessory. 

I headed south of the conference center first and explored the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park.  As soon as I saw the Roman fort, I knew this area was aptly named. Actually, the fort itself was named “Mancunium”, the birthplace of “Manchester”.  Castlefield is a very quaint, but distinctive area – consisting of a hodgepodge of Roman ruins, waterways, old houses, new pubs, gardens, and bridges, bridges, bridges!...all in a fairly tiny land area.
In the first garden, I passed youngsters and families having picnics enjoying the (unusual?) sunny day.  Walking past the fort, I was greeted by the Bridgewater canal (overkill name?) and a family of bridges made of wood, concrete and metal, intermingling, shuttling pedestrian on first tier, cars on 2nd, and the Manchester tram on 3rd. And under them, the boats passed quietly. After crossing the nth bridge, a contrasting scene greeted me – lots of movements – the people on the greens lounging, cafes are filled with excited chats, kids are feeding the pigeons and ducks, kayakers are gingerly getting on the inflatable kayaks (yikes!), and a lone fisherman was ignoring all of it. I sat on the bench and watched for a bit, taking it all in. I realized how very few places in the US do I see such interesting scene. Central Park in NY is the only one that comes to mind right now. And Castlefield is Central Park’s pinky in size.
This wasn't what Newton meant. Nevertheless...

"We build too many walls, and not enough bridges." - Isaac Newton

After I looped back to my towering hotel, I headed north to the historic center, the Civic quarter, admiring the unique buildings of the Central Library, the Town Hall, and St. Peter’s Square. Like in Lisbon, I observed the seeming struggle of Manchester to hold on to its historic past but also usher the new and modern. I’m glad that a lot of the structures are preserved or restored, but I fear that if they keep building tall buildings like the shiny-as-a-penny Hilton, these will diminish the city’s charm. 
Midland Hotel - would have been the wiser choice
My beacon - and I don't say that lovingly.
I can't remember where I read this, so I'm sure I'm going to butcher the thought, but here goes - I read somewhere that when we build something we ought to build with the goal of it lasting forever, and make something that our children's grandchildren would be proud of.  I guess that's the difference between the glass and steel buildings we've built in modern times, and the pyramids and forts that were built stone by stone by wrinkled hands and bent backs. The latter have lasted for so long and will outlive us still. 

Battle of old vs. new

Town Hall

I went past Chinatown and onto Picadilly Gardens.  Within these (maybe) 10 blocks, the scenery rapidly changed from historic to Asian to a big and loud gathering plaza, and a left turn brought me to the shopping district – at some point my Fitbit buzzed in delight, and I still continued on. Most stores were closed or closing as dusk was descending, and the Pubs were starting to liven up.  I ended my trek at the grand Manchester Cathedral, sadly closed at that hour too, and for fear of blisters, I conceded to taking a taxi back to my hotel.
Manchester Cathedral

 Other notable sightings:
Hey now. I'm offended.
Waiting for Superman
Would you go down the rabbit hole in these?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 1: No peer pressure!

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Summer is prime conference season. Up until June, I was penciled in for 3 conflicting conferences scheduled for the end of summer – should I go to Korea, Spain or India? Then got a curve ball and found out in mid-July that I had to go to Manchester, UK instead.  Cool. At least, I didn’t have to worry about the language! So, four days after coming back from a conference in Philly, I find myself back on the plane Europe-bound. 

Would you have chosen the library too?
When thinking of must-see in Manchester, one would likely think “Manchester United” – naturally. Sad to break my football-loving friends’ hearts, but that was not exactly top priority for me - naturally.  My plane arrived on time; I zipped through customs to my hotel early and a few hours before the conference was scheduled to start. I honestly had little time to prepare for this trip, let alone borrow or buy a travel book, so thank G-d for Google pointing me to my must-see in Manchester!  My destination - The late-Victorian, gothic building on Deansgate in Manchester, England: The John Rylands Library.

The John Rylands Library is not your ordinary library. Not only does it have an impressive book collection, but its gothic architecture is nothing I’ve ever seen in a library. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this could very well be part of Hogwarts. And it certainly wouldn't have been far-fetched if a choir of seruphim started singing in that room!

Borrowed online since my pictures inside didn't come out well

Now, don’t judge as I’m admitting to full-on nerd here – I confess that what brought my feet to this library is one of the featured themes - science. The library is celebrating the 250th anniversary John Dalton’s birth by displaying Dalton’s personal letters. If you’re a chemist, you’d know how big this is. Yes, it is the Dalton who pioneered the theory of atomic weights, the Dalton of Dalton’s law of partial pressure (the pressure exerted by each gas in a mixture is independent of the pressure exerted by the other gases, and the total pressure is the sum of the pressures of each gas.)
PTotal = P1 + P2 + P3...
Dalton's handwriting was impeccable!  My nerdy heart just fainted a little. Unfortunately, taking photos of the letters were not allowed. You can imagine how fragile these are. Some of the manuscripts were charred by fire at the Literature & Philosophy Society that housed them, apparently during an air raid in 1940. Still, I’m hoping I can request the images from the library, so stay tuned! 

Perhaps less known, but just as key to Chemistry is Sir Humphry Davy, who discovered Chlorine and Iodine. The library gallery/museum also featured some of his notebooks. He’s Dalton contemporary, but got overshadowed, maybe? What I found amusing that I didn’t know before is that Davy is also a poet. He wrote poems alongside his scientific data!

Such a small gallery, but so much wealth! There were two other exhibits I enjoyed. First, as part of the 400 year death anniversary of the bard, the library featured the collection of Shakespeare’s tragedies, his first folio containing all his plays which was printed 7 years after he died and was put together by 2 of his friends.  They also had the Sonnets 1899 reproduction.
“To the onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets. Mr. W. H. all happinesse and that eternitie promised by our ever-living poet wisheth the well-wishing adventures in setting forth.”

I honestly did not quite follow that and had to write it down to decipher later. Maybe ask hubby to help.  

Lastly, I saw the exhibit featuring History of the Bible, which showcased small pieces of papyrus containing text from the old and new testaments.  It’s meant to make us think of where it’s been produced and how was it come to us now? Parts were from Deuteronomy from the earliest fragments of Greek translation of the Hebrew bible used by Egyptian Jews.  Other fragments were from the gospel of John. There was also a manuscript of the Amidah for the festival of Rosh Hoshanah written on rice paper that was supposedly used by Chinese Jews in Hunan. Wow. Didn’t I say this library is a gem! And this was all just on one floor. 

Found Balzac's burial in Paris, and now his life's work.

The 3rd level of the library was even more impressive.  It’s a functional reading room with cases upon cases of priceless copies of books you won't easily find elsewhere.  This is bookworm heaven.  And there were folks who were studying there!  HOW?? This place is so amazing, I’m not even sure I would have been able to focus.

It struck me how in visiting this new place (Manchester), I found an old gold mine in the Rylands library. Juxtaposed, whenever you go to a library, it's bound to bring you to a new world. Huh.   

Alas, it was time for me to leave this intellectual sanctuary and head to work – tired, but inspired.

I ended the day following the theme. Found a fitting restaurant in The Alchemist. 

Period table of cocktails