Month: July 2015

Auf dem Sportplatz

This summer I’m joining my wife on her sports project, which includes running 10 km track – every day.

While I prefer doing the 10 km cross country (admitted – I have a lot of pain after that), rather than on a sports ground in endless circles, I took joy in seeing that in the evening more and more people come to the well equipped public open sports ground and do there all kinds of exercises.

I spotted one guy who arrived with his bike and drove to one remote angle and did his gymnastics and then exercised his tricks with a soccer ball. He was all by himself, no other guy involved.

40 years ago in my village in Germany – when you went to the soccer field about a mile away – you always could meet at least one people what was playing there with a soccer ball. So for sure when you went there, you could team up and play. And I know it was like that everywhere in Germany, and likely all across Europe.

In the years after 2000, I noticed this is not anymore the case. Boys are not playing soccer anymore outside. They have other interests.

So, I felt back in good times when someone showed up on the soccer field with a ball just like that last week.

I also noticed three guys together on track, one of which was heavy overweight, whereas the two others were fit. All in their mid 20s. It seemed like the two fit ones were coaching the overweight one to make sure he was doing his tracks round without interruption. And they succeeded with it. Later I found they must have been doing also boxing because they had the equipment – at least the two fit ones. Seems the overweight one had two very good friends taking care of him and his exercises.

Guessing from their language, they might have come from Brazil … .

Did you have a lab at home ?

During my times in the U.S. – I used to live there for more than six years – I met and worked with countless people from Asia. Very kind people from China, Korea, few Japanese. At some point I wondered whether they had owned a lab at their home when they were kids.

I asked my parents for my first chemistry kit from Kosmos at the age of 11 or 12, I think. Chemie2000. The following year I got the Kosmos C1, and later Kosmos C2. In between I purchased Kosmos’ electronics kits and also one of their computer kits, plus a very tiny bio kit with nauplius crabs (Pl. nauplii). At the pharmacy store in the neighbour village I was a well known customer, and the owner sold me stuff which I believe, nowadays, he was not really allowed to sell me, even back then in liberal times.

Also I visited my neighbours quite often. They were radio amateurs and fixed and build all kinds of electronics. Radios, TVs, stereo HiFi stuff. I remember them playing Supermax’ Camillo. They also had a computer ** in the mid 70s ! ** which had a magnetic tape cassette as storage medium.  None of them had college training, but the two brothers were geniuses and made their money with electronics. They shared with me a lot of hardware and brain ware. I owe them a lot.

I had my lab at my parents’ attic.

So, did my colleagues have a lab? Somehow I have the prejudice that my colleagues from Asia did not have a lab at home. Would be great if I got some info from people from Asia who had their own lab when they were kids. In recent years I asked some of my colleagues from Asia that I still work together with, and it seems they do not have this culture of playing as boys (or girls) around with science stuff. Times may have changed. I’m curious.

So, last month I was in the Netherlands at a conference on biosolar cells. Near the famous life science city of Wageningen. The City of Life Sciences. It was sort of a program meeting where foreigners were invited as external experts and speakers and so on. I was very impressed. I liked the conference a lot. There was a great spirit all around.

On my last day I was in the conference hotel in the Cafe and doing my stuff with my laptops over a beer. Some of the colleagues from the conference were sitting together on a neighbouring table and becoming loud over some educational issues. They were all professors. From NL, UK, USA, Finland. I could not avoid noticing their topic, ad then turned to them and asked them “Please, tell me, who of you had a lab at home when you were a kid? Raise your hand!” 3 out of 4 (the male people) raised their hands and confirmed they had had their own labs at home as kids. Well, this was a nice surprise. Only the female participant said she had not had a lab a home. Well anyway it was good to see that these colleagues in majority had started out in science as young kids.

(just few days ago I learnt by sheer coincidence that a high profile collaborator of mine, one of the better Chemists in Switzerland, got a chemistry kit as kid from his parents…)

I am not going to be sexist here. I had a girl in my research group two years ago, a Physiklaborantin apprentice, and at some time I asked her “do you know how to work with a soldering tool?“. And she replied yes, she knew how to do soldering. She had learnt it prior to her formal college training at home, she said. I was impressed and happy to see that people still at tho digital age do some practical stuff at home.

So, to get back to Asia. I know very well that parents from Asia value academic education a lot and invest a lot of money and other efforts for the education of their children. More so than I am used to see in Europe.

Would be interesting to know if there are some cultural patterns about how raising kids in Asia, Europe, United States in terms of formal education.

Doing class work and curriculum is not the same like doing your own way and try to find things out by yourself.

The pleasure of finding things out was my driving force in doing all this science and tech stuff. It was not imposed by my parents or other people. Later I was reminded that Richard P. Feynman seemed to have grown up similar. He, too, said he had operated a lab at home when he was a young kid in Long Island …