Berlin


We went to Berlin and it was great. We visited friends and visited many important Sehenswürdigkeiten (sites): 
DDR museum


Berlin Zoo


River Spree


the Fernsehturm


Brandenburg Gate


Out Walking


We stayed in an apartment near the Brandenburg Gate, one of the last apartment buildings built in East Germany, the last buildings before the wall. Our friend staying with us grew up in East Germany and it was crazy to reflect on just how things could have been very different. We were also just steps from The halocaust memorial and the former headquarters of the 3rd Reich. This is from the Roma memorial.  Heavy stuff. Excellent Trip.

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Spontaneous Steiermark

EditApril 4, 2017: The kids and I have vacation this week Duke has a big meeting at work, so last Saturday at the Steiermark Festival we decided to take a trip for the week and only after getting home and looking it up exactly I realized we were going to the Mur Valley! We travelled the same route in February on our historic steam engine tour. We got picked up in Murau for a short trip to the Hirschenwirt, a 600 year old inn in the village of Stöder. We are maybe the only guests today (Tuesday). The train trip wasn’t quite as amazing, but The Valley is beautiful even without snow. We visited the ponies on the way to the house and then walked back for a few rounds on 27-year old Wiki. Leo insisted on a saddle, so they brought out an amazing old Wild West western saddle.

img_9568Dinner was also delicious, Zander (a fish) with hollandaise sauce followed by spice cake, and when we got back to our room a oompa oompa band was playing across the stream. We could see many heads and the glint of a Tuba and it stopped almost as soon as we started to listen. We had a few more easy days, sleeping in, riding the pony, and learning about the village’s Easter traditions.

On Wednesday the inn keeper spent the entire day making sausage for the meat blessing at the Church on Friday, the boys hauled wood out to a huge pile for Saturday’s bonfire. On Friday the daughter met with other children at the church at 5 am and set off in groups of 2-3 making noise with old wooden noisemakers and chanting at each door. We didn’t see many guests and Duke said maybe they only said they were full on the weekend because they didn’t want any outsiders to witness whatever was about to happen the night before Easter. We’ll never know because we didn’t stay. We drove the mountain route north through some very beautiful country, mountains, farms and nature preserves. I was a little sad when we crossed out of Steiermark into Lower Austria. Then came the beautiful Danube and we followed the river until a little past Melk.  We had a great dinner at the Gasthaus Aggsteinererhof, which was full.  We stayed somewhere else down the river.  In the morning the kids and I took the river trail back to the inn where a Shuttlebus carried us up the mountain to an amazing medieval festival at the Aggstein ruins. IMG_9631.JPGWe really love nothing more than going to festivals in real castle ruins. We had roasted fish, spit roasted pork, honey wine and beer. Our friends joined us later in the afternoon. We scaled the ramparts and shot arrows, we witnessed a sword fight, dragon egg hatching and fantastic marionette show. At the end of a long day we walked back along the river and Duke was the first one to fall asleep. Easter morning we enjoyed a good breakfast and drove back. Duke dropped us off for our annual visit to church and in the afternoon I left the kids and duke with their new Legos and candy from the Easter bunny and headed to the Opera for 5 hours Parcifal. It was a marvelous performance. The whole thing was set in a mental hospital in the early 20th Century, with mental patients and doctors as the grail knights and a glowing brain as the grail. The women’s wing was the evil realm and the women laid under sheets with their bare feet sticking out, like cadavers, only to come to life as beautiful enchantresses in the only part of the opera that felt too short. It’s kind of a strange way to spend Easter. The music was amazing and the orchestra wasn’t too loud like usual, so even though I was sitting in the front instead of our gallery seats it still sounded perfect *humble brag* my friend is an opera singer and she got me an amazing seat and she is both talented and sexy. On Easter Monday (which is a holiday in Austria) we had friends over for ham, because Duke found a real ham and bought it before coming on the whole adventure since he knew the grocery stores wouldn’t be open until Tuesday. It was great.

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Master’s Thesis Ideas

Science, Technology, and Society — how do they interact?  How can we better understand our complex world and how to act responsibly? How do governments protect their citizens? How do policy makers regulate scientific ideas and dangers that do not yet exist? These are some of the questions that are guiding me in my master’s program at the University of Vienna in Science, Technology and Society.  As a former government grants manager for the National Institutes of Health and former project manager for non-proliferation focused international science collaboration I have a feeling for some of these interactions.  Stepping out and stepping back – from all the way across the world in Vienna – I can see the interplay of regulations and responsibility more broadly.  Here in Vienna, there is a long history of thinking philosophically that is emerging as a new, more reflexive way to conduct science called Responsible Research and Innovation.  Next Summer, 2018, I’ll be returning to Washington DC (Rockville, MD) to a changed government landscape with a new master’s degree looking for a job.  I’m nervous and excited about re-launching my career — but how? where? doing what?   As part of the journey to find answers to those questions, I am developing a research question for my master’s thesis. I currently have two working ideas and I would really love your feedback and ideas!

Option A:

“Nuclear power is a significant contributor to the US energy grid, but spent nuclear fuel is piling up at power plants without a designated next step because of US domestic policy challenges. What risks does inaction create?”

The USA executive budget blueprint includes significant funding for the creation of a nuclear waste repository at the Yucca mountain site in Nevada. The promise of a national repository is tied to the 1977 ban on reprocessing spent fuel for non-proliferation reasons related to concentrating plutonium. In other countries spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed into new fuel, reducing the volume of waste by ~90%.  Without repositories to store large amounts of spent fuel or reprocessing to reduce the amount of waste, spent nuclear fuel remains on-site awaiting a political solution. The nuclear industry has been paying into a government fund for the creation of such a site for years, however local resistance to the designated site delayed any final decision for decades.  A favorable review from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was finally completed shortly after the previous administration made a political decision to abandon the site.  Industry recently won several lawsuits against the US Department of Energy reclaiming some of these funds.  What role does scientific information play in the controversy?  How do policy makers take up highly complex technical information?  How do calculations of risk play into policy decisions at the national and local levels? How do deals between government and industry officials hold up to local resistance?

Topics:

  • Where does appropriation language come from?
  • What is non-proliferation?
  • How are risks of non-proliferation weighed against dangers of storage accidents?
  • What timescales are involved?

What role does expanded scientific knowledge play in changing understandings of the safety of Yucca mountain as a long term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel?

How is the science communicated with the people in the Yucca mountain region of Nevada?

Option B:

“New advances in gene editing through CRISPR promises great advances in medicine, but the US intelligence community named genetic editing as one of the top national security threats last year, Why and what are the implications of CRISPR’s designation as “dual use” for researchers that receive federal funding?”

Weapons of mass destruction and the accompanying concept of “dual-use,” compounds and techniques that can be used in basic research and in making nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, change the way we think about research. CRISPR is changing molecular biology and genomics, making genetic editing possible in more targeted and less resource intensive ways.  Smaller labs instead of state-sponsored industrial bioweapons production facilities could create genetically altered deadly pathogens. In addition to deliberate release, there could be natural disasters or attacks that cause containment failures, off-target mutations and other mishaps that could cause gene editing to become dangerous unintentionally.  In trying to understand what CRISPR is actually (often a basic research tool to understand gene expression) and what it could be (ability to redesign organisms), science communication plays a provocative role.  Applications involving CRISPR are moving almost as quickly as our imaginations, but there still appears to be a large gap between the promises, such as eradicating malaria and genetic disorders, and getting it to work in practice.  How did genetic editing become a named national security threat? How do policy makers account for risks?  Existing prohibitions against research in embryos, use of certain agents and toxins, and increasing the virulence and transmissibility (gain of function) of pathogens and self-regulation with regards to recombinant DNA are past attempts to reconcile the dual-use potential of research.  In the end, ethical questions are often reduced to a check-box on a grant application. How will new regulations and security protocols for CRISPR look? How do the scientists themselves think about risks, responsibility and regulation?  How do Austrian and European funding agencies deal with possible harm from CRISPR initiated genetic editing?

Topics:

  • Types of regulation, role and limitations of self-regulation, responsible research and innovation
  • Understanding Risk
  • Role of Tacit Knowledge
  • Science communication
  • Sociotechnical Imaginaries

Methods:  For both topics I will fully explore a document, including it’s production, distribution and uptake, and will conduct interviews as a complementary method.  This could play out as following a new regulation and talking to researchers about the effect while studying the origin and intent.  For the other option I could follow the budget justification language and talk to officials.

I would love your feedback!  Ex) you can’t say that, it’s technically wrong, I promise to help you with your research, why don’t you do the thing about robots, I know someone who is working on that, I didn’t understand any of that but now I’m scared, etc.

 

4-up on 3-28-17 at 11.42 AM (compiled)

 

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Steam Train, Dream Train

We joined a british train enthusiasts expedition for a day on an antique steam train through the Mur River Valley in Steirmark. It was really cool.

 

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Oh are you wondering how we got these great pictures?  It’s called a “run-past” and it involves everyone getting off the train while it backs up and then runs-past.  At first the engineer and conductor were highly skeptical, but as soon as they abandoned any hope of keeping a time table they got really into the fun.

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http://www.railwaytouring.net/

 

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Vienna Dreams

One February Day in Vienna
It was a magical Vienna day, we crushed through melting snow to a hip Saturday market, sipped coffee, went ice skating, ate schnitzel and went to a ball.  My dad and step mom arrived in the evening the night before and we set out into the now familiar streets of Vienna’s 8th district. We walked down the Josefstadter Straße window shopping and enjoying the flower shops. If I think hard enough I do remember that someone was crying about a sock. We got down to the ring and I hurried down to the underground to buy senior tram tickets from the machine, since it’s just 2.40 for two instead of 2.30 for one of you buy it on board. I can remember the agony of trying to figure out what transport passes we needed in the beginning, but now I know and it’s just the hassle. We took the #2 tram around the ring, admiring the familiar sites of the Natural History Museum and Art History Museums (Right side), the Hofburg Palace and Burggarten (left) the opera (left), a glimpse at Karlskirche and the Philharmonic (right) the soviet fountain (right), the Stadtpark (right), the Marriot (left). We got off at Julius Raab Platz and admired the architecture before heading in to a hipster’s pop-up market in the old post office, which is behind Otto Wagner’s Postsparkasse building. We drank melange and went around to stands acquiring cheese and meat, baskets of rolls and jam on a large board for twist on the classic Viennese breakfast. On our way out my two year old son Leo convinced us to buy a large bag of lemons and then proceeded to stand under a drain pipe showering melted snow. Allison, now five, helped by telling him a monster would eat him if he didn’t get in the stroller. Of course she showed him the shower in the first place. The kids cuddled up in our giant stroller together inside a lambs wool sleeping bag and we moved slowly down the street checking relief sculptures of professions and inscriptions until we had to the for the next tram.

I have a little app on my phone that tells you when the tram is coming and whether it will be the new kind the big stroller can get onto or the old kind it can’t. The app makes me a little bossy sometimes. After such an exhausting breakfast it was time to go home for a nap. With Leo asleep and my parents blessing I seized the opportunity to take Allison ice skating. We walked down to the ice skating complex in front of the city hall and got free loaner double runner baby skates for her (luckily she wears the same size shoe as most 2 year olds) and tried out our skates on the free beginner ice. It went so well that we bought passes and we went on the big ice and the lovely circuit through the park. We really had a lovely time, just the two of us, ice skating in Vienna. It was kind of what you imagine when you think about having a daughter, we had a really lovely time.


On the walk home I talked to Duke who was stuck in Paris after missing his connection from Bogota. I told him it looked like we wouldn’t be going to the ball that evening, but as soon as I hung up I had a message from a friend offering tickets. My step mom has had a dream of going to a Viennese ball since she was a girl and so, like a fairy godmother I offered up a dress and glittering slippers and convinced her we should go for it. My own dress was something amazing I picked up at the AWA charity auction in the fall, it’s a one of a kind, princess Anna magenta, gold and black number and I was happy to have a chance to wear it. After playing dress up we went to my favorite Viennese restaurant in Vienna, Franz, and had all the delights like roast beef with fried onions and schnitzel, with vienna’s wine, Grüner Veltliner, but no desert. Then back home to put the kids to bed and improvise hairdos without any hairspray or tools.
Oh but the ball was marvelous. We picked out the best dancers and watched them glide around the palace, we talked to a group from Scotland and ran into a few friends and colleagues among the thousands of revelers. It was a beautiful evening. Duke finally landed in Vienna, but had to file for a lost bag and got home well after the midnight quadrille (a special dance). Still, he was ready soon after and headed down to the ball. We realized he wouldn’t be able to take my step mom’s place when she left as we’d planned, but I came up with a plan and Duke joined me around 1.

 

After the silent disco, we danced the Scottish reel around 3 in the morning and I danced with such an array of characters, including a Doppelgänger for Kim Jong Il. We wound our way back through the palace and home after 4, happy to have my dad there to take care of the kids in the early morning. It was really a dream day.

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Sardinia in February 

Italy isn’t a typical February destination, but I had a break from the University and southern Italy is at least warmer than other European destinations, so we decided to meet there rather than have my mom come to Vienna again. My sister has planned a grand Italian itinerary for my parents including Rome, Florence and Venice and we added a weekend in Sardinia to meet and try to take it easy. We stayed on a farm and enjoyed all the animals and spring weather, as well as a hike on the beach and a renaissance horse festival called Sa Sartiglia. Mostly we just ate. We ate really well. 


It takes a special sense of adventure to chose agritourismo, or farm stays. We could have easily stayed in an empty beach resort, going to the spa and swimming pool and doing whatever beach people do in the low season (outlet shopping?) but instead we chose authentic Sardinian hospitality. The farm had been in the family probably forever, our hostess, Christina proudly pointed to her mountain and introduced us to the donkeys by our little house. The rooms were decorative but sparse, bright colors (we asked for the pink room), no pictures, no lamps, no stupid tacky urn full of sticks for the kids to break. Even the TV and heater were mounted on the ceiling so a rampaging toddler (or loose donkey) couldn’t cause too much damage except to themselves on the hard time floor. It was strange actually. The room smelled like no one had stayed there for a long time, maybe old smoke and chemicals and just damp, but we threw open the shutters and tried not to notice. The beds were bouncy and sheets scratchy and the first day Leo stepped in pig shit up to his calves in his nice boots. I finally found a use for the bidet in trying to clean him up, after all, the thought of a clean and long unused bidet is not so gross compared to very fresh and real pig goop. The piglets were really cute though, and incidentally, also delicious. 


We had some real farm moments like trying to keep the dog, Abu, from eating entrails, or watching Allison work with another five-year-old, Emma from the farm patching a fence after watching a bigger piglet squeal and struggle to get through after its brothers and sisters. We crossed a stream on a makeshift board bridge and followed the fence made of old mattress springs up the mountain under threat of rain, big pigs to the right and donkeys to the left. We avoided falling in the unfenced swimming pool and told the kids a sea monster would get them if they even got near it. It was daring and wonderful.  


The beach at St Giusta was great, we didn’t see anyone the whole morning and enjoyed watching the waves, collecting shells, sticks and random trash. We took a little hike on a boardwalk over the sand dunes and peered and empty resort towns. On the way back a family was setting up a table with a red and white checked tablecloth for a picnic lunch. We drove down to the town of Villasiumius and then back out again to the Porto touristico where we found the seafood restaurant recommended by our hosts that was both fancy and kid-friendly, we had sea bass and fries, wine and octopus with a view of all the yachts and the sea. Our kids may have played with mafia kids. It was a family kind of restaurant. After the restaurant we visited a fortress high over the sea that had once withstood a pirate raid. We continuously imagined where treasure might be buried. 
The rental car place had unacceptable car seats and gave us a TomTom that perpetually sent us on a closed highway leading to several bumpy road detours. We shared bumpy narrow dirt roads with sheep, goats and dogs on our many detours. 


Only after planning the trip and checking out the recommendations from my babysitter did I realize that we would be around for the festival of Sartiglia. This explains why we stayed on one end of the island and had to drive across. I couldn’t find much practical information in English other than, come! So we set the faulty GPS for the biggest parking lot in the town of Oristano and improvised whenever we ran into trouble. I almost died when granpapa drove across a sand and dirt horse track into the city center, but we moved a bucket, parked on a random street and replaced the bucket, and our car was still there when we got back. 


The festival centers around a parade and race horses to capture a star hanging on a ribbon across the street. It was pretty crowded and we hadn’t managed to get tickets for the bleachers, despite trying on the internet and calling. The kids took turns perched on my shoulders, Allison climbed a fence around the bleachers and my parents didn’t grumble too much. We tried to stake out seats for the second big event, we waited for more than an hour with no signs of the 4 o’clock event starting by 4:30. Despite great people watching, the kids were getting wild and the crowd hostile, finally a vomiting Kung fu panda was the last straw and we left for the farm. It’s hard to hang on when you know an amazing 4 course meal awaits you. We started with zucchini fritters, cheese pastries, roasted red peppers, pickled cauliflower, eggplant bruschetta on thin Sardinian bread and some other delights. For pasta we had spinach and ricotta and potato ravioli in a meat ragu, and a ball shaped pasta with porcini mushrooms, the main course was spit roasted piglet and lamb and for desert homemade pastries and cookies. Red wine comes in bottomless pitchers. So delicious. 
Monday we headed back to Rome and after checking into our third apartment in 5 days we let Leo take a nap and sat around playing our favorite board game, Carcassonne. Despite warm weather it is still winter and by the time we were ready to go to the park it was already dark. We went anyway, and the kids enjoyed playing behind the ancient ruins of Rome. The restaurant we’d staked out for dinner was booked, so we ate somewhere else and it was overwhelming to have to pick from a menu after being served dish after dish at the farm. Traveling is getting easier with the kids who are basically pros at this point, but I missed my parents on the flight today. What a nice trip. Italy in February isn’t such a bad idea after all. 

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