Monday, May 28, 2007

Beginning Bremen

My first week here was intense. I arrived May 1 around 9 AM after a nice but very long flight, eager for a nice nap. Denied. I had to lug my garment bag, suitcase, backpack, and laptop case around to one location to get the key to my apartment, then travel there to drop my stuff off. Then immediately off to the lab. The boss Dr. Gräser wanted a grant application done by May 7 and I was good to go. Bernhard and I plugged away on that for several hours and I certainly felt I earner my ensuing 11 hours in bed. We kept at this application for pretty much a week straight - not literally, we slept and ate, but not much else. We were here evenings and weekends, and poor Bernhard had his daughters calling because they missed their daddy. I was not going to let him down, nor anybody, and besides I had just come off 2 weeks of vacation so it was a great time for me to keep my nose to the grindstone to spite my face, to mix two rather violent metaphors. He got 2.5 weeks vacation time soon after that, so there is some justice in the situation. Of course, the ultimate arbiters of our proposal will be the grant reviewers, who can be vicious and capricious bastards. (And very unlikely to read blogs.) For any non-scientists, at least half your time is spent begging for money via grant applications. The proportion of time spent begging for money increases as you become more senior, meaning that the higher you go - and thus the more capable you are of making a real contribution, either through direct research or effective management - the less time you have available. It's a stupid and insulting system, and the main reason I will probably not have a purely academic career.

We finished the grant app and were most pleased with it. Good ideas, well written, good collaborators. Why, were it up to me, I would fund it. We got most of the big European BCI labs involved - Birbaumer, Pfurtscheller, Guger Tech, plus Microsoft Research and others. The grant includes developing immersive, game-like training environments for BCIs, and so last week I even sent an email to Blizzard Entertainment to see if they might be interested. (I knew them from way back; I won a contest to develop ideas for Warcraft 2, they paid for my trip there and attendance to the first E3 conference and offered me a job, the same week I was accepted to grad school, the rest is history.) The president of Blizzard wrote back quickly and said maybe, send me more info, and I also got on the beta test list for Starcraft 2. So I plan to talk to Bernhard when he gets back from his vacation (tomorrow, actually). Another nice side effect of the grant frenzy is that it confirms we can work together under pressure. I am sure that won't be the first time.

I came to appreciate Mensa, the best university cafeteria I know. Apparently they used to have a very bad head cook, and then Mensa burned down, and somehow the cook was exiled to Bremerhaven, a dirty and unpopular fishing sprawl a bit north of here. I asked some people about it, since I thought it would be cool to see the North sea and some museums, and the locals all recommended against it. Mensa has a website with its daily fare, which often costs half as much as students and has inspired all kinds of schemes to claim student status. They have a website with their daily fare:
One day it featured 'maultaschen,' which Altavista translated as 'grumbling ashes.' Appetizing. Turns out this meal bore a striking resemblance to large ravioli. I was disappointed.

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