Unexpected driving lessons

The weekend of the 15th of August, Sant Quintí de Mediona held it’s town festival. I knew I’d meet old friends and family and it’d be great fun. I also knew I’d get there by car, only not that I’d be alone in it…

Let’s call a spade a spade, Sant Quintí is not gracefully connected with public transport and I usually get a lift from someone going there. This time my father’s girlfriend was supposed to pick me up at Vilafranca after work. However, as I waited for her in the street, my phone rang.

Let's see what we've got here... [foto©: srgpicker]

Let’s see what we’ve got here… [foto©: srgpicker]

My father was coming for me. She had a breakdown three towns from Vilafranca. The plan was to locate her and they’d wait for the tow truck together while I’d drive on my own to Sant Quintí to have lunch with my family. The fact that I drive every other year didn’t seem to worry him.

After having the identity of the pedals reminded, I sat at the wheel, closed the door and inserted the key. Then I heard knocking on the window. My father was pulling air from his shoulder down to his waist. Focusing on the pedals I had forgotten about the belt.

I fastened my belt, turned the key, stepped on the clutch and shifted into first gear. Knocking on the window. Now he was turning the key… to the end—those tiny details. But now everything was checked. With the engine running for real, I shifted into first gear again and stepped on the gas. The car stayed still.

The window again and my father miming a lever; the handbrake. Jeez! All the stuff you need to do before actually driving! Don’t worry though—just like my father—everything run smoothly on the road.

A Pole and the Three Wise Men

After going on holidays to Madrid using New Year’s Eve as an excuse, a Polish friend visited me in Barcelona.

It wasn’t his first time here. Last November we visited the city on foot in four days. That time he learnt the details about the Castanyada; this time he experienced the Three Wise Men’s eve and day.

On his first trip, he overcame the confusion of reading signs in Catalan or Spanish that mixed with his French and his bit of Spanish. Moreover, he witnessed with horror how I spread oil and salt on his bread just to end up asking for more. So good does bread with oil taste that in Catalan there’s a song to ask for it.

King's cake and figurine

He found the King figurine in his dessert, so he had to wear the crown [picture by him]

The evening of the 5th of January is the time for the Three Wise Men’s parade. The Poles have Father Christmas and don’t put on a show for him. My friend was amazed by the display and the amount of people clogging the streets, as well as by the confetti and candy that rained on us and covered the floor in several layers.

On the 6th, even though without presents, we had lunch with my Catalan-speaking family. Aided by his French and Spanish, he grabbed some words to guess a context—just as I did in Poland. My sister provided the funniest moment of the meal with her face when she knew he lived in Warsaw. Do you know anything from Warsaw that you didn’t learn from WWII films? She neither.

That evening he and my brother tested their Spanish and English, respectively, in a conversation linguistically monitored by me. But they weren’t the only ones speaking languages. My guest used to ask me about the previous day or our plans for later in Polish. We even spent a morning walking the declensions of the Polish cases around the Gòtic neighbourhood.

It’s kind of cool to begin the year with some cultural exchange.

The perks of last—as in previous—generation consoles

When this year started I shared some ongoing self-improvement plans and, although posts on science or language have been published, there’s not much on the third group, apart from books. Let’s talk about video games.

Plenty to choose from [picture]

Plenty to choose from [picture]

PlayStation 4 is turning 1 next Saturday and I bought a PlayStation 3 a couple of weeks ago. So, PS4 exists and I’m buying PS3? Exactly. I’m never really up to date with consoles. In fact, Nintendo DS and PSP are my current portable consoles, even though Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita were released a while ago. Even some PS2 games are still waiting for me on the shelf…

Being a generation behind has some perks. To start with, prices have gone down and there’s a nice second-hand market because the rest of the world is replacing the old machine and games with the new ones. Additionally, the real potential of the consoles has been revealed —or neglected— and there’s the full range of games to choose from. You also learn to take life easy; there is neither pressure from new games nor shortage of them.

It won’t strike you as a surprise —after the 100 pages of my comic— that I’m playing Final Fantasy XIII. Gamer opinions apart, let me talk about its subtitles. If you understand both the voices (in English) and the text (in Spanish), don’t you get confused? The translation is quite free, which is not necessarily bad because without the voices it would work perfectly. However, I try to keep up with both and I listen to a conversation and read another one that moves the same way, but in a different fashion. Apparently, being a generation behind has no benefit against occupational psychosis.

My other Master in Analytical Chemistry

This is not the first time I share the acknowledgements of a master—nor my first master, as the title reflects. In these social media times people love being referred to publicly. Let them enjoy this.


It’s funny how you’d always spend time you could use to write your master’s project to add a section to mention the culprits of your confinement in a laboratory for a year, when you could have been travelling and frequenting clubs, where meeting someone with means to support you wouldn’t be that difficult.

Then someone comments it could’ve been worse, you could’ve had to suffer some subject repeated from your degree or badly organized and find a couple of lazybones who earn more than they teach among the real vocational professors. Lucky you. And here’s a honourable mention to the master’s coordinator for her patience in our e-mail tennis match—similar to that students would have shown in the event of those hypothetical lazy professors.

Anyway, it’s yourself the one to blame for deciding to give in to this fate. The rest are confinement colleagues who make the experience bearable and hence the acknowledgements. It´s not like me, nevertheless, to make value judgements, so I’ll stick to the facts without pointing out the good, the bad or the ugly—not that there’s a lack of material for any of the categories.

Going back to the beginning, all matter was concentrated in a spot, even the one that would form me; that might be too far back, though. About 13,800 million years later, I decided to study chemistry, which lead me to meet the two Sílvias, who encouraged me to enrol the experimental master. There I met yet another Sílvia, who put me in contact with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

At the CSIC, I had an interview with Ethel. Two years from that she sent me an e-mail starting ‘You might not remember me’. Fortunately, the subject made it clear she wanted to make business; otherwise I’d have thought that message was motivated by the memories of my charming smile.

Be as it may, I received that e-mail the day before leaving on a 41-day route around Europe and we discussed it on the phone during my trip. How could I turn down the offer of a contract and a master’s degree on pollutants in dolphins followed by a PhD? However, I must admit that what convinced me was the promise of a visit to the dolphins someday. Therefore, should they not honour their word, I’ll have to delete all the registers of my work and take my dignity somewhere else.

In the laboratory, I also had the invaluable collaboration—for sometimes he’s not worth it—from Cayo. During my first week and some other day he guided me through the experimental methodology on an unprecedented effort, not because of teaching me, but because of him coming early in the morning when I arrived.

Also, I’ll never forget that Joan crossed the Iberian Peninsula just to provide me with the extra amount of sample I needed. I won’t because, to start with, it wasn’t like that. He just happened to be coming to Barcelona when I asked for the samples. He deserves some credit, nonetheless for searching in the warehouse. On addition to that, he supported me statistically; although that doesn’t count since he used my pen all the time to label his tubes.

The time has come for the populist bit where people arguably relevant to my research, but present at some point in the process are mentioned.

I could talk about my lab mates, who do help you find material or use the equipment. However, in the end they only keep you company and amuse you on the boring days or at lunchtime… Trivialities.

Finally, there’s the class mates—post-adolescents who, far from care for my evolution as a scientist, entertained me with festive nocturnal social events. On top of that, they would leave early and leave the closure of the acts to me. By the way, regards to my Basque kuadrilla.

I’m interviewed at Ràdio Vilafranca

Few of this blog’s readers might know that last Monday 9th of June the radio station of my hometown, Ràdio Vilafranca, broadcasted an interview to me in the magazine Penedès gamma extra.

Carla Sanmartín and Daniel García Peris interview bloggers from my hometown area or who write about related topics, e. g. wine, since Penedès wines are well-known. They focused on the Catalan version of the blog, but they are quite the same. Here’s the audio in Catalan, but panic not, for you can find an abridged translation below:


Download the interview

C – Here’s another edition of Penedesfera with Daniel García Peris to meet our bloggers. Good morning, Daniel.

D – Good morning. Today we’ve got Òscar Aznar Alemany, with his blog Traduquímica et al.

C – Welcome, Òscar.

Ò – Good morning.

Glasses of the magazine [source]

C – We have to introduce Òscar as a translator, corrector and chemist, which is an explosive combination. He’s a man who can both be an environmental chemist at CSIC [state lab] and work with Termcat [centre of terminology]. Congratulations because you fly high in the two fields.

Ò – Yes, I started studying Chemistry at university and then joined the Translation and Interpreting school thanks to a friend. That’s how this started.

C – And you seem to keep yourself active in both fields.

Ò – True. Lately, I had been focusing in collaborations with Termcat, on scientific texts, combining both. However, I got an offer for a PhD with a contract at CSIC and I felt like going back to the lab.

C – And what do you do there?

Ò – I analyse marine pollution, especially a kind of pesticides called pyrethroids.

C – So you’ve got a lot to do.

Ò – Well, it’s funny to be an environmental chemist because you want to find pollutants in your samples to draw conclusions…

C – But if you do you feel bad, right? I understand. How can we classify Òscar’s blog, Dani?

Here I learnt most of my chemistry, but nothing about the thin space [source]

D – He’s got a very personal blog, but it’s quite educational in his areas of expertise. Sometimes he even mixes them, like in that post about the thin space.

Ò – I find these things very interesting because, as a scientist, you’re not taught linguistic related stuff you need for the documents you’re going to produce.

C – So, how do you plan the topics for your posts?

Ò – I try to write about language because that’s something everybody can use and sometimes publish posts on simple chemistry or the chemical research process. I don’t want to overload people with excessively specialised matters. I also write about books and my trips, but from a cultural or linguistic point of view as much as possible.

C – What got your attention of his blog, Dani?

D – This duality and his will to communicate and help us avoid typical mistakes.

C – So, what bothers you the most, linguistic contamination or environmental contamination?

Ò – Ha, ha! It depends on how serious they are. I’ve recently analysed salmon from supermarkets and pesticide levels are a thousand times below the accepted limits. That doesn’t bother me.

D – I guess you analyse all kinds of materials, don’t you?

If they are that clean, someone’s not working [source]

Ò – Indeed, in the lab there’s people analysing all sort of compounds. I also work with flame retardants. These are used in everything, for instance computers or chairs in theatres, in order to avoid or weaken fires. These compounds are constantly released by these objects, but you’ve got to choose between a possible cancer at an old age or to have people dying in fires every day.

C – Well, if you add this ‘at an old age’ bit, maybe… But it scares me anyway.

Ò – But that’s the lesser of two evils. Ha, ha! The other option is not to use computers or chairs.

C – Well, I’ve been there. Without computers I mean, not chairs. But yes, there’s been a huge progress in our lifestyle, technology and also chemistry.

Ò – Sure. I fight this war, and sometimes write about it, trying to decriminalize chemistry. You see ads selling soap with no chemicals, as if soap flowed from a spring on a mountain.

C – But lots of soaps have unnecessary chemicals, right?

Ò – Sure, but the word chemistry evokes things like cancer, radiation, death, acid…

C – Ha, ha! Wow!

Ò – There’s a dark side to chemistry, indeed; but we owe it a lot.

Does this look familiar?

Does this look familiar?

C – Of course. We are chemistry. It’s just; sometimes we could use it less. Do we agree on that? Ha, ha!

Ò – Sure. Ha, ha!

D – So you focus on language because it’s more for all audiences than science.

C – But science on the media is becoming more popular lately.

Ò – From my point of view, common people are more likely to use the linguistic tips because not everyone has access to a lab.

D – On the Internet it’s easier for someone interested in that to find it, though.

Ò – That’s true. My colleges from university or the lab find it interesting too sometimes.

C – When did you start this blog? And was it your first?

Ò – I started four years ago because I took a course on presenting TV programmes and…

C – To become a presenter?

Ò – Yes, it was a short course.

The Catalan counterpart to this blog

The Catalan counterpart to this blog

C – That’s interesting because, talking about science becoming more popular, that’s thanks to good communicators. And we need people like this.

Ò – Right. So, a man had been recording and interviewing us throughout the course and gave us some advice at the end. He thought I had a funny way of telling things and making stories appealing even when they weren’t and encouraged me to start a blog. And I saw it as a way to practise my writing and learn in the process. And that’s my aim, to learn, not to get lots of readers. Of course, if someone likes it and learns something, that’s even better. So, I started a blog in Catalan and a bit of Spanish and its twin in English.

D – Maybe another option between TV and blog is YouTube.

Ò – In fact, I’ve thought about it. But I’d rather have a solid base and be really proud of my blogs—which I am, quite—before adventuring into something new.

C – So these are two actually different blogs we’ve seen today.

D – Indeed. Different because of this uncommon combination of topics and here we’ve got the exponent.

C – Fantastic. Thank you very much, Òscar. It’s been a real pleasure meeting you and talking about your work.

Ò – Thank you.

Swinger no more

I’ve mentioned before—don’t make me check where—that my life is divided in two or three-year cycles, usually because I choose it, but sometimes it just happens.

He knows the feeling

He knows the feeling

Last September, on Saint Jerome’s day, I announced my retirement from teaching English to study insecticides in dolphins. I’m a pseudo-full-time environmental chemist now indeed.

Apart from that, I devote my free time to super secret linguistic projects, to swimming several days a week and to some hobbies as posted in my fake New Year’s resolutions (fake because they are previous to New Year, not because they are false).

Therefore, and as I don’t own Hermione’s Time Turner, I had to drop an activity which structured and livened up my 2012-13 year, the swing lessons.

Swimming already provides me with my physical exercise dose and I don’t have the free time that led me to those lessons. However—attention!—I said lessons; so you might still see me on a dance floor, for the fun and the swingers are worth it.

By the way, I’m sorry if you got here from Tim’s post looking for a swing maniac since I’m that no more.