Embrace the other tribe


“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

In our lifetime we have seen many upheavals in various countries around the world and many horrible atrocities committed against humanity. We are more and more connected to the flow of that news, yet more and more desensitised at the same time. Our sense of global humanity is an interesting construct, since we are hard-wired to live in smaller tribes and be empathic to familiar people. We can only really store a certain amount of people in our brain (1), beyond that realm we encounter “them” as another tribe.

While researching the tribe versus globalisation, I came across this opinion piece by  (2), and find truth in these lines regarding current events:

Important traumatic events have plunged people all over the globe into an identity crisis. Their response is tribalisation: going back to the tribe they know best.

and while this may give solace to ‘why is this happening?’, it does not give us a sense of security and stability.

This blog is mostly about writing and sharing our cooking project. Yet our collective identity crisis affects also me and our family. Our daughter flipping of the president elect during his press conference is her response to our insecurity about the future. I would like to stress here to be honest: firstly our family’s future, then the broader spread of humanity.

As a researcher I am depended on a favourable political landscape towards (my kind of) science to obtain funding. Without funding I will not be employed, since my salaries are depended on external funding. The EU has been a driving power in providing funding strategies beyond my current tribe in Finland. The political landscape in Finland to fund science has always been good, but resent years this is on the decline (3). This trend we also see in the USA, a frontrunner for scientific endeavours for many decades.

Now it seems we enter a new phase, something I am writing about in my very slowly progressing SciFi novel-thingy. At this rate it seems that it may even be fiction before I can get it published. A new world power is emerging, with another one waiting in the wings. Of course I am referring to China and India, the Dragon and the Elephant. Two countries that look at each other with suspicion, but with a clear understanding of the power of investments in new technologies and creating legislations that open a freedom of operation within their own tribes.

But a citizen of the World I am wary of the near future. The USA has through previous technical and scientific developments and acquisitions build up a wealth and power that influences the rest of the population with a literary unbalanced force. In the last election for example about 40% of the USA (which holds only 5% of the world population) decided to put a person in place with very limited views of the World. We can all argue about the values that that Tribe he represents and we can all argue about it as well, but for our global perspective, it is a step in the wrong direction. Scientific facts do not care about public opinion. Gravitational force is still here wether you deny it or not. Same about evolution, climate change, gender issues, GMOs, vaccinations, and the power of innovation.

Our future may be uncertain, I think our ancestors shared our concerns. They looked at the stars, they conversed with the bones of their ancestors, they invented religion to strengthen the bonds of the tribe in order to survive better. Will a collective connection directly to everybody else aid us? Do we need to enhance our brain (via science mind you) so that Dunbar’s number becomes infinite? Will an encounter with an off-Worldly tribe spark the birth of the Human Tribe? Many stories have been written about this.

So my take on it is that humanity is a collection of stories, and that the narrative of those stories is healing. Some people like poetry, others read horror stories, but at the end of the day we can tell each other stories about that one poem of inspiration or the scary bits of a horror story without forcing the other to read it. To find common ground, to revel in being human, to talk and listen and embrace the other tribe…



(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number

(2) https://euobserver.com/opinion/131413

(3) https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/finland-funding-cuts-catastrophe-research


IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Theophilos Papadopoulos


The Mondays

“It looks like my story line is going… where?”

It is Monday. I am writing, yes the curse of November may be lifted yet. So what is going on? In the short fiction course I am taking we are required to (finally) write a short story. I am working on it. In the course I am a week behind, it has been busy, but these is writing going on.

This week we are finally looking at editing and I hope to get some insight into that, since it is still an elusive skill to me. The hyperlink story, brought to you by me and Ville where we deliver a story in 100 word chunks (or drabbles) via a challenged title has taken time, since each story is so packed with information or needs to deliver very precise. Also it is a hyperlink story, so each drabble connects to some others, while it may not be clear. This could be strutted easily if there was a plan prior. Yet we do not have. So structure is only applied while and after writing. Indexing took some time, then side drabbles run in parallel now to support other stories. It is becoming more and more fun, but if anybody would ever get something out of it I do not know.

So if you ever have time I invite you to read it if you want (you can find it all in The Cave (see link on top); some discussion or feed-back on hyperlink stories is something I am looking for.

Did you ever write in that format? Is it a rewarding forum? Or is a classic tale with a real beginning, middle and end better?

The Mondays – NaNoWriMo bugs

crestNo, do not worry! No need to send out some search dogs through the rubble of my busy life to find me. I am still alive and writing. If you had time to check my blog “The Cave”, link above, you would have seen that. The drabble war is in full swing, some haikus fell out of my head, and work as been full with writing.

Also I started a writing course, here: Fiction writing course and I am doing some pedagogy studies for my work. So loads of writing, now I have time to catch up.

Oh wait, is it November 2nd? Dang, sorry NaNoWriMo is happening again. Last time I just made it halfway, writing was too hard and it was to busy to get about 3000 words a day in before work started. Now I have a bit more time in the evening this week, so lets see if I can make a head start so <ahum> coast through the final week. Solid plan! But we will see.

How many of you have no time to respond here because you have the NaNoWriMo bug? I will try this month to have sporadic and most likely frantic, peer-pressured, “need to write more words”-panic like paragraphs thrown at this blog, more for my moral support than your entertainment. I apologise beforehand.

With that I dive into my coffee, go to the lab, read an article for my pedagogy studies, have a meeting, pick up the kids, make dinner, put them to bed, make/drink/make/drink coffee and try to get 4000-6000 words down this evening.

Wish me luck!

The Tuesdays – Keep applying pressure

Sisyphys (1548–49) by Titian
Sisyphys (1548–49) by Titian

Wait a minute! Did this guy not promise to write blogs on Mondays and Fridays? Geez! Yep I did.

Yesterday, and actually all weekend was full of writing. As I mentioned many times already, two EU grant applications (one with the deadline this month, the other one was due last week Tuesday) take up some time, and I really wanted to make progress in a short story that I am writing: “Jumpers” for a competition due the end of this month as well. It is only maximum 2500 words, but I want to put some serious effort in.

In addition, the short story will be expanded upon to be a chapter in my work in progress: The death of an Emperor. Some snippets of that in its most raw form I posted already on G+. I may have to take it down at some point before publishing, maybe not, I have not decided yet. I feel right now that if the characters come alive enough  in this short story, I may follow up ‘Death of an Emperor’ with a book about the rebels on Ganymede in the wake of the Emperor’s death (no spoilers here, the Emperor dies).

So basically despite the busy week I managed to push something out and made progress. Sometimes that is all you need, some progress. Once in a while I  see posts that remind me of the proverbial pissing contest: “I wrote 6000 word today!” Well congratulations, I managed to do 300. I will crawl in the corner now and whither away with my unwritten literary thoughts. Of course the person is not at the moment a full time researcher, with 3 young & magical children, a heroic wife, 2 EU grant applications (‘oh shut up already, one is even already submitted!’), and trying to write a book, short stories, blogs and is not suffering from a mild addition to Renaissance  kingdoms. Oh and Opaque Dreams has to be finish some time as well (I started those poems in 1997). But we will get there, slowly we push in one direction and things will move.

I noticed this in my daily work as well, just keep applying pressure in one direction and in time things move. Sometimes fast, and then keep up, some times slow, and then keep applying pressure. Breath in between. Ask for help, collaborate where you can, but push all the time.

So I managed to ramble something. Yes it is Tuesday, but any day just writing something is more than thinking about writing something. Remember that not everything you write is good, but it is better than no writing at all.

See you Friday when I try to address the Introduction. It is all about hooks and cliff-hangers is it not?

The Fridays – Clarity

clarityThe quality of coherence and intelligibility. Yes, this is very important. First of all, in scientific writing we need to be understood. This is important if your peers read your text, but maybe even more so if others read it. In other words: the reader needs to understand what you mean.

Of course the text needs to be written following the proper grammar rules, spelling should be perfect and writing hooks to draw the reader in and through the article or grant proposal are a given.

However, scientific writing is often taught at school and universities for a reason. Poetic freedom in the phrasing does not convey coherence and intelligibility, or clarity. Side by side the two next sentences are trying to convince the reader about a trend in the data:

  1. We [the authors] feel that deriving from graph 1 we can conclude that no trend is apparent.
  2. Analysis of graph 1 showed no trend [evaluated by method X].

We  can clearly see the difference, the graph should not be open for interpretation if it is used to make a statement or an argument. In science presenting any data for the public eye is definitely an invitation to interpret the data from the reader’s perspective. The text is there to weight it, agree, or counter with scientifically sound arguments. Scientific ‘truths’ change all the time due to better understanding of the underlying phenomena.


the message of any give scientific text is to make a clear what has happened, or in case of a grant application, how things will be done in the future. There should be no room for opinion nor should is be a slideshow of the data produced. The reader should ‘get’ what the author(s) message is.

The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication – George Gopen, Judith Swan*.

From the quote above we may get a hint in the difference of a novel and a scientific article. A bit more difficult is an article written about a scientific article. Most often this is a statement or opinion about its message. I would argue that most articles about science news are not scientific in nature, but I am open for the discussion.

Now,  a scientific text is typically divided in following sections:

  • (an abstract)
  • The introduction – Background, state of the art, statement of what was done/aims.
  • Methods – How did we do this thingy/how will we do this thingy
  • Results – This is what we have observed and how much the data is worth within the context.
  • Discussion – (Sometimes mixed with the Result section) reflects the quality of the results and how the results compare to the state of the art and beyond.
  • Conclusion – This is what we found and this is what it means.
  • References

Grant applications may follow a similar scheme or more likely are presented in the form of a project plan/project work-flow. Of course you do not have results yet, but you will tell how you expect the future results will impact society/your research field/your aims/teaching/etc… There is also a tiny bit of room for your opinion, but be careful! It should be a logical statement that flows from the presentation, not your personal feeling about the topic: “give me money, because I think it is the most important research ever!” does not work. A discussion of a topic A, described in reference of problem B, which can be solved with a novel method C is a better argument, but I will get back to that another day.

I want to discuss from my point of view each section mentioned in the bullet-list above from a grant proposal point-of-view in the next blog posts. The reason for this is twofold: (a) I am writing a grant right now. It may clear my head and help in the writing, and (b) before you present data that you have done, you need money to do the work. So logically the article comes later. Also I need to get back to the lab…

*) Please find an excellent article by George Gopen and Judith Swan on the The Science of Scientific Writing to find more details on how to write more clearly if you are interested.

The Mondays – Editing

The red pen. So feared, so crushing my hopes. Stifled is my voice by hurdles of grammar…

Edeting. Editing is a necessity for a non native English speaker. However, I understand that it is also hard for English natives. I understand, I am horrible in (or at) Dutch grammar.

You see it took me 3 Google searches and several minutes of my time to look thing up in the above paragraph and if further grammar errors are present in this text please send me you suggestions.

I used to write by hand, mainly for the poetry and short stories and I frequently got annoyed by not knowing the English word, a suitable synonym or just the correct spelling that I switched to computer based writing. When Firefox introduced the spell check in the browser life got again a bit easier. Though annoying, as if tripping over a stone, at least the major spelling mistakes are filtered out. Well that is what I thought. Then you share some text with other writers, some of them editors and apparently ‘tow doves on a wire’ does not make any sense. Frustrating.

So then back to older texts and re-reading them; sure enough many grammar mistakes and errors in spelling. Typos in most cases. I can recommend to read this book: The Well-Presented Manuscript by Mike Reeves-McMillan and must admit that I am not good at the clean writing from the get-go. I need to polish afterwards. I have never had my text proof-read by a professional editor, my wife is American and experienced proof-reader, so I ask for her opinion. However, where some of my doubts slip in are if the order of chapters is correct. Or if I should break up the chapters or leave them as they are. Maybe I should delete the whole thing? Like a painter at one point it is done (enough) to move to something else.

While I looked for the image for this blog, I came across some other useful tips (I am sure there are numerous blogs of respectable and capable editors out there, but I just stumble here). You can find the 8 tips here. I found them useful. Never thought about tip 1: reading my text out loud. I will start doing this, and putting it on Soundcloud so I can listen back to it myself.

What do you do to get past the editing stage and evoking the feeling within that the manuscript is super awesome and ready for the world? I would love to hear you comments so I can learn. Or if you are an editor I can afford, that too (or to?)…

The Fridays – Part 1

32005daWriting. For some it is a nightmare. I hear it often from students at the lab. Similarly, a writers block for authors is a nightmare. Writing is the answer to both problems.

I know this sounds strange, but the best way to get out of a writer’s block is to write. Anything. The inspiration for the other thing will come back by itself.

So also goes my advice to students, my first supervisor gave me the same advice when I started my 9 month lab project for my bachelor thesis: “Start writing today”. I was surprised, “But I do not have any data yet!” A smile. “Then write the layout of your thesis, and fill it out along the way.” My PhD supervisor told me the same for the article that needed to be written, but where not all the data was in. “Just fill what we have, and make bullet-points of what you think we still need to do.” Clearly these people were more experienced than I am, so I listened (mostly) to their advice. The thesis and articles got done, with respectable merit, though looking back it could have been a lot better.

Start writing today

For compelling reasons I do not fully understand why I need to write and share my writing effort with others. I like the feed-back; as much as I enjoy stories of others, I like it when other like my stories. About these efforts I share some of my personal struggles and day-to-day insights on Mondays. What I like to do on Fridays is to write about writing I have to do to (indirectly) pay the bills.

Let me explain that briefly: I am a researcher and I am working in Academia. This means I need to write grants so I can do research. Out of these grants also comes my salary. Grants are easier to obtain if you show that you do things and know what you are doing. You are judged on how you write and your track-record. Only then comes the idea for the research into play. A track-record is a list of accomplishments: awards (including grants), conference talks, teaching if relevant, but above all: articles.

So in order to get paid I need to write grants, most often in collaboration with other people who also need money, and in order to get grants I need to write articles. Of course no articles without data. One other great piece of advice from my supervisor during my Master’s thesis work: “Get the data first.” It is one of my weaknesses, I like new challenges and new ideas. It takes discipline to finish a project and move to the next, especially when you know how to finish it.

make bullet-points

I think some of the lesson of during my studies and career as a researcher can be applied to daily writing as well. I am not good at making a frame work for my book, in other words Making the Bullet-Points. Yet in my articles and grant writing it is where I start. I do write to write more, as I explained earlier. Data collection for writing my book and lyrical poems “My Opaque Dreams” I do beforehand and on the fly. New insights and new twists in the story require research into topics on the spot. I do not have an eduction in Greek mythology, nor in Chinese culture. So I have to investigate, filter and write.

So therefore with this introduction I will leave you now this Friday and will next time try to write something about grant writing. I am currently perpetually writing a grant (a though one: for the EU) and at the same time editing a review article we are working on.

Get the data first

(I need to go to the lab now…)

Image is (c) the Upturned microscope under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ licence

The Mondays – part 1

“I decided to give my gun a name, so it would not look so strange when I talk to it. I call him Incentive.” Daydreaming in the bus. Not that I was daydreaming about really buying a gun or naming my imaginary gun, it came up in an imaginary interview I was conducting with two people I actually do not know.

Winters in Finland can be quite cold at times, so I take the bus. It is a good time to read book(s), since the winter-bus-time is about 5 months and I have 2 hours a day to kill. The rest of the year I try to cycle as much as I can. It is about an hour cycle each way, not great for reading book(s). Now my bike is broken and under repair, so I am reluctant to start a book. Either way on the bike while bikeling or on the bus while busling I daydream. Many silly ideas fly by, some good sentence and ideas for stories.

I also decided that in order to get some content to this blog that at least I should do something once a week. So since Monday mornings are already filled with a tired stare at the screen while tanking up on coffee, I decided I should dedicate this time to write my blog. So now I am writing in this blog about writing a blog. Not really Keats, but oh well…

O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
So withing daydreaming I can find sentences I would like to remember for use in poems or stories, yet larger ideas for (bigger) stories are usually born while writing from those ideas. Short stories, as I used to write them, followed an opening sentence I felt important to pen down. Now I am writing chapters for a book I hope will someday be a book, I noticed I am inspired differently and look ahead more. More like driving a care then riding a bike. Which is a wrong comparison, since writing short stories is like speeding down a hill without breaks, while writing a chapter is more like cycling uphill with a kid’s tricycle (at least for me).
I am curious about how do you scoop ideas from your head, from initial ideas to sentence to sentence?

Cold wind and blazing sun…

18a2726So here I stand then, visible and open to the world. Another forum, yet different. Sure I wrote three posts on my LinkedIn page pretending I am producing clever posts. I have a collection of writing efforts out there: the Cave (my other blog), Wattpad, Google+, even some poetry in a collection in hard copy. So I think I am a writer.

So why do identify myself as a writer? I read a lot of books and discovered book, my own hiding places from that world when I was a teenager. Then I started writing little things, short stories. Even now they fall from my pen, almost effortless. Somewhat incoherent words from the consciousness. With that poetry followed. Long stories, the dream and attempts of a writing a whole book end always in a bog of quicksands of words. Now I am trying to write a book in a different way, it may work. I will let you know. Also I am older and have written more things at professional level, like theses, grants and text for scientific journals. Some sense of structure. I am a writer, because there are stories to be told. First I was younger, then I just needed to breathe stories: read and write. In and out. A tide of words. Now I am getting old(er), I have children. From somewhere there comes the need to share my exhaled air, the flood of outward words. Ego? Legacy? Sharing thoughts to find others who listen and who can connect with me at this level? Scared to be another anonymous soul among so many, so a needle-prick stab at mortality? Death is the ultimate conversation killer after all.

Writing is fun. A friend of mine he has a wonderful voice as a writer. On some levels we are alike, yet on so many levels so different. His internal contemplations and literary output are resonating. He is breathing his words often after he holds his literary breath. Savoring the input to explore the depths. Maybe in some writing efforts I am too impulsive. With him I am in a drabble war. A drabble is a 100 word short story, excluding the title. I provided the first title, the response a drabble and a new title for the other person, and so forth. My clever friend called it Wordexpanding. If you want to read them hop on over to “The Cave” (link on the left on this blog).

If you are interested in a drabble war with me, please comment. It is a great way to play with a certain genre or style one have never written in.

Over time I will write about several things related to writing from my perspective here. I hope it a journey from: “help I am writing!” to “please check out my latest book”. I have no idea how to get there, but I set out on my journey anyway.

~ Marco