Is it just me, or am I now getting spammed lately by invitations to become an “editor” of some journal or book edition, or as a distinguished “invited speaker” for some conference I haven’t heard of before? Don’t get me wrong, nothing would be more flattering than being recognized by your peers in the field. But, dyosme, as I am a scientist, wouldn’t you expect me to have a fairly objective idea of my own relevance? I am way past the point where I jump up and down with glee each time I get a paper published, or merrily float to cloud nine whenever I get acceptance for my paper to be presented in some exotic location somewhere in the world (perfectly understandable if it’s your first time, but after the nth time, you sort of outgrow it). It is just routine now, all part and parcel of the profession which I have chosen for myself. Admittedly there was a time when it seemed perfectly valid to brag about it to my peers, or even to close friends who did not even understand what my work is all about. But years have taught me to be aware of exactly where I stand, and as far as I could tell, there is definitely still a long road ahead of me. If you have been around for as long as I have, then you will understand exactly what I mean.

So, yes, I get suspicious whenever invitations like those appear in my inbox. My first thought would be: what exactly have I done to deserve it? Someday, sure, when the time is ripe.  And I’m fairly sure that by then,  those invitations will come from someone I actually know. Sometimes a career in science is not a race, but a marathon. Matira matibay.

What would it take to actually be considered successful? Number of publications? Prestige of journals published in? (I know there are those who merely list the number of their papers published in Science and Nature as a measure of how important their achievements are. Fairly objective, wouldn’t you say?) Amount of grant money received? Number of students advised? Election into elite societies or groups? All of the above, perhaps.

Unfortunately we can’t all be superstars, despite our sincerest aspirations. Some of us are meant for stardom, some of us are meant to remain in the shadows wearing our old dirty lab coats and doing mediocre work. While working really hard may give us a fairly good shot at attaining some degree of success, the reality is that there are also serendipitous factors that are simply outside our realm of control. Sometimes we just get plain lucky. We get to work with the right people, be in the right environment, and on top of it all, the right opportunities presented themselves at the right time. It just doesn’t work that way for everybody.

But as I have said in an interview for a magazine some years ago (no, I was not interviewed because I was famous in any way, and yes, there were other women scientists who were interviewed for the same article!), no mother would ever say on her deathbed, “I wish I had written more papers.” Substitute any of the success parameters I mentioned above, and it boils down to essentially the same thing: those which may make us proud in our lifetimes are not necessarily the ones that can make us happy.

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Hindi ko alam, pero bigla kong na-miss ang Pilipinas. Na-miss ko na magsalita ng Tagalog, hindi Ingles, hindi Hapon. At bigla ko na-miss magsulat sa Tagalog. Tapos napagmuni-muni ko na hindi pa nga ata ako nakakapag-blog ata sa wikang kinagisnan ko. Masubukan nga.

Kung minsan, biglang lang akong susumpungin ng pag-miss sa Pinas. Ang tagal ko na rin kasing di nakakauwi, halos dalawang taon na. Dati-rati, halos taun-taon kaming umuuwi. Pero ngayon hindi na ganon kadali. Pano, ang isa sa amin eh tumalsik sa kabilang gawi ng Pacific. Pero ok lang, siguro naman darating din ang pagkakataon na makakabisita ulit kami. Ang tanong ay kelan.

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I spend a lot of time imaging my samples. It is one of the routine characterizations I perform on my samples. It usually doesn’t take that long to get an image using a conventional SEM (scanning electron microsope) measurement, but if I’m looking for a specific surface feature or morphology, then I can spend hours measuring a single sample.

Just imagine, I am looking for a surface feature that’s 100 nm x 100 nm in area, which is significantly smaller compared to the total surface area of the sample, which is about 10,000,000,000 times larger! It would be like looking for a speck the size of 0.1 mm x 0.1 mm in area over a floor area of 100 sq. m. Fortunately, as long as there are dense enough specks scattered all over the floor, there is always a good chance of finding one even if you look into a smaller area. In my samples, there is usually a good distribution of surface features over the sample, which ensures that I get to image one at various locations. But of course, it is always good practice to image several locations on the surface to get a feel of the “typical” representation of the sample.

As anyone familiar with SEM knows, focusing on a featureless, flat surface of a thin film sample is a daunting task. So it always helps to zoom in on specks of dust or whatever debris on the sample first. In other words, specks on the sample allows you to focus more easily. Once you focus on the speck, then you can easily focus on the other areas of interest.

So much like in real life!

No matter how hard we try to live seamless, smooth lives, there will always be specks in the form of people, events, and things. As they are specks, they do not necessarily ruin our lives, but we would rather do away with them if we could. Examples of specks? An annoying email. Senseless discussions. Unwanted advice. People eager for praise. Cold, uncaring friends.

But what if they’re there for a reason? What if, just like SEM imaging, those little, annoying bits and pieces in your life are somehow there so that you can focus on what’s truly important? Specks can be annoying if you let them, but at the end of the day, it’s still your life that matters, not them. Specks can think and say and do what they will, but that’s all there is to them: devices allowing you to focus on higher things.

I know I’m making a stretch by comparing life to a mundane, routine work on the lab bench, but thinking of it this way actually made my day. Thumbs up

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A Bit of Sleuthing at Saizeriya

It’s been a while. I had to forego blogging for a few months in order to focus on the demands at work. Now that I’ve hurdled the two major conferences of the year, met deadlines for research proposals and other matters, I’m more or less free to devote time to other things.

We usually eat dinner at home, but tonight happens to be one of those times when I just want to sit down and eat a ready meal and not worry about cleaning up later. Saizeriya happens to be one of those places we frequent whenever we want a quicky meal that’s not too fastfood-ish. And need I add, quite easy on the wallet too. Plus, Aya loves the hamburger steak there. So off we went.

While gobbling up my tarako sauce spaghetti, I glanced up at one of the Italian paintings decorating the ceiling and wondered whose work it was. I was pretty sure I have seen it somewhere before. It’s a shame, considering that I have visited various museums already and am quite familiar with the more famous masterpieces by Italian painters. I recognized The Birth of Venus and La Primavera by Botticelli of course. As for the others, well, I decided I needed some good ol’ Google help.

So here’s what we did: we took photos using my iPhone and then used Google’s image search tool. And voila! Mystery solved.

Images on the left are the photos taken on the iPhone; those on the right are the ones that turned up on Google.


L’Amour et Psyché, enfants by Bouguereau


The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael


Cherubini by Raphael


Disputation of the Sacrament by Raphael

Turns out that some of the paintings were just snippets from the original scenes! I’m truly impressed with the image recognition capability.

‘Nuff sleuthing, lets eat! – Aya

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Aya, The Pokemon Artist

Aya has been bitten by the Pokemon bug. She plays it on her DS every chance she gets. Well of course I let her play from time to time, kids will be kids! 😉

She is quite taken with it, that she began sketching and drawing the characters as well. Surprisingly, it turns out that she has an uncanny ability to draw even the most complicated ones. A budding artist in the making? See and judge for yourself:


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Piano Recital

Finally, a chance to perform on stage! Actually, Aya started taking piano lessons (in a group) as early as four years old; unfortunately, when we went to the UK, there had been no opportunity to continue her lessons (it was ‘life interrupted,’ for ALL of us). So that was about a year of hiatus. After coming back to Japan, it still took several months before I finally decided that it was time for her to start honing those skills again. Precious time wasted, perhaps. But I’m happy to say that Aya’s skills have improved considerably since then. Smile

For a first-timer at a piano recital, Aya played beautifully, and not even a trace of nervousness! (In contrast to her mom, who was visibly fidgeting all the way until her number was called.) Needless to say, I’m a very proud parent!

Without further ado, here’s the video clip of her performance:

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Thoughts on The Hunger Games

My sister gave me a copy of Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games. At first I was repulsed by the idea of teens hacking one another to death in an arena for the purpose of punishment and televised entertainment. But the way the novel was written, I couldn’t help devouring the novel (pun intended). I couldn’t put it down until I got to the very end. I haven’t read such a gripping novel for a long time, and it was a welcome treat. Never mind that it is a book for ‘young adults’,’ hahaha. I loved it! I think I even fell in love with Peeta. Smile

I ended up reading all three books – The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay – but I think that the latter two unfortunately failed to reach the same heights as the first book. For me, the impact made by the first book actually provided the impulse to read the next two books in the trilogy, but in the end it was pretty clear that all the fresh and original ideas went into the first one.

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Sometimes it seems that people have simply forgotten or otherwise blatantly ignored simple rules of social etiquette. Just because there is now a convenient medium where bits and pieces of our silly and mundane lives can achieve newsworthy status, we think we can do away with the rules we normally follow in real-life settings.

I am talking about the blurring of the line between private and public, leading some people to expose their private lives for the sake of public popularity or whatever reason. To look cool. To prove something. To make themselves appear bigger, by using social networks as some sort of convex mirrors.

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I am currently watching about three dozen kids doing their warmup exercises just before their tennis classes. Yep, that’s about three dozen kids doing jumping jacks and stretches at 9am on a Saturday morning. I guess that translates to about three dozen parents waking up early on a Saturday to shuffle their kids to the tennis court.

So, when I have decided to sign up Aya to this class, effectively I have said goodbye to those long, lazy Saturday mornings spent in leisure in bed. That, and several thousand yen each month.

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Hot Air

When someone brags about accomplishing something before he/she has had the chance to do it, you give them the benefit of the doubt. You smile and nod, then hope that they will eventually make good on their word someday, somehow. Not that it’s any of your damn business, really.

Blame it on my amazing ability to listen intently to what other people say. I especially latch on when people talk about their grandiose plans for their lives and their future, or whatever else they’re involved with. I listen with the rapt attention of an eight-year old who naively believes anything an adult says. And I actually believe them. It seems that my take on these matters is: consider them true unless proven otherwise.

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