I've been pretty busy at work; my experiments are not entirely working, but they're failing to work in interesting ways so I shall have fun troubleshooting them.
This week is Nobel Prize week here, making it a very cool time to be in Stockholm. Even better, both the chemistry and physiology prizes this year are relevant to my work, so I attended both lectures. Roger Kornberg gave a rather technical talk about the crystal structure of the RNA polymerase; from a scientific point of view, it was great, because he showed exactly the right images of the structures to illustrate clearly how it works. But he made no concessions at all to the lay audience he was supposed to be addressing.
The physiology lectures were incredibly badly organized; they chose a venue that was far too small for the audience, and made no attempt to marshall the queue. After a very frustrating wait, we ended up not getting in to the main theatre, but had to watch via a video link from an adjacent auditorium, and even that was absolutely overflowing. Fire's lecture was a tour de force, both entertaining and informative, and he bounced, it was so cute! Mello rambled rather; he overran a 45 minute slot by more than half an hour, safe in the knowledge that no-one would interrupt a Nobel laureate. There was some good stuff in there, but it was hopelessly disorganized. I think all three scientists wanted to talk about what they're working on at the moment, not the work they did in the mid 90s that they won the prize for. It's great that they're excited about their research, but I think Mello let his frustration spoil his lecture a little.
In the evening, the prize winners visited the synagogue, which is a long-standing tradition of the Stockholm Jewish community. That was somewhat disappointing, too; Kornberg so visibly didn't want to be there that he ended up being all but rude to the community. He left ten minutes before the end; for the sake of ten minutes, you'd have thought he could have skipped insulting his hosts. In return the cantor who made the welcome speech was everything short of directly rude; his words were faultless, but his tone and body language made them rather barbed.
Today I didn't go to synagogue; I had a lie-in, and then made a point of going for a walk during the limited daylight. I took a camera with me too. It seems that the cold snap just before I went to England at the beginning of November was just a warning shot; since then the weather has been mostly warm, and quite often, as today, sunny as well. When I manage to get out, it's been a lovely season; it feels wintry, with winter smells and amazing light effects, but it's clement and there is still green and colour because of the mild weather. A lot of this can't be captured in photographs, especially not with my digital camera which tends to correct everything to "average" lighting conditions, exactly what I don't want when I'm trying to display the otherworldly beauty of the landscape lit by the very low angled, bluish winter sun.
Christmas here is surprisingly tasteful and pretty. With so much darkness it makes sense to have lights everywhere, and almost all of them are plain white or blue lights, not garish horrible Santas and reindeer and competitive tackiness. Almost every window has those funny rows of candles, most of them in the usual chevron style, but a few with the candles all on one level, and some that are even specifically menorah shaped, which is making me double-take a bit! But it's rather lovely to wander around in the dark and see all these candelabras in windows, and strings of white lights wrapped round trees and gables and doorways.
I haven't yet figured out what the signficance of the pigs is, but they appear to be a Christmas tradition here. My wonderful local bakery has some unutterably cute marzipan piggies in its window at the moment:
Two annoying things, though. Firstly, my phone is being unreliable again; it's giving an engaged tone to people who try to call me, when to me it seems fine and is not at all engaged. This has caused me to miss calls from people I really wanted to talk to, pseudomonas and compilerbitch in particular. So if you've been trying to get hold of me and not managed to get through, that's why. I suggest writing me an email and asking me to call you if you want to speak to me, just to be sure.
The more serious negative is that Lyndon LaRouche's evil "Novelle Solidarité" group, the people responsible for the anti-semitic murder of my brother's friend in 2003, have set up a stall in the station just outside the campus where I work. They look like your standard lefty student protest group, with posters about how evil Bush is and protesting about the Iraq War, maybe just a smidge more glossy and professional than some. I don't even know what they're doing in Sweden. I guess looking for more naive students with lefty, anti-authoritarian views to sucker into their scary cult. They have no way of knowing that I'm Jewish, of course, but I'm really concerned about seeing them here.