extemporanea: a picture of the Trifid Nebula (Default)
Today was a very bitty day - broken up by a group meeting and a German lesson - so I planned to accomplish little tasks instead of big projects, and was generally successful. I sorted out health insurance (finally! and more on that in a minute), transferred all my data from my old department to my new department, organised my desk and made notes on the papers I've read this week.

The group meeting was good, and the first one EVER, actually, as the dynamics group is new and not previously established. My boss only started here 12, maybe 18, months ago, I'm not exactly sure. Recently, anyway. And he got a grant to form a new dynamics group here, which he has done. There are seven of us in total; my boss, three postdocs and three PhD students. One of the students is actually half way through a year-long visit here, and one of the postdocs has been here for three months already. The rest of us all started in the past two weeks. So the group meetings are very much what we want to make them, there is no precedent here - the idea is that we come along with anything of interest; stuff we're working on and stuck on/puzzled about, interesting results we find, interesting papers we read, reports on conferences we went to. If they continue to be as good as the meeting today then they will be great - everyone in the group is fantastic and the meeting was useful, can't ask for better than that!

The German lesson was okay; I find the pace of the classes a little slow. My first class was fine, but then it was the fifth class for everyone else so I had four lessons to catch up on (which I did fine). The group is great (although will be split in two as there are too many of us for the room, the smaller classes will be beneficial too), very friendly and the classes are a laugh. The teacher is quite a character too. The classes are predominantly in English (when we're not speaking German - I imagine (hope!) that the English:German ratio will change as we learn more) and I'm the only native English speaker out of 17 of us. It's quite fun because he'll often get people to translate things into their own languages (and occasionally he'll get me to say the English because he likes my accent!) - for example, we were doing jobs today and so he got everyone to say the job in their own language. All together we have people from France, Italy, Spain, China, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Iran, Taiwan, Sweden and India - I know this as "I come from ..." is one of the phrases we have learned!

Anyway, health insurance isn't something that I've ever had to deal with before, so this was all a bit new to me. People who get a salary get health insurance as part of the job, but people on a stipend (that's me) have to sort it out for themselves. The department gave me a list of health insurers they recommend and what they cover for what cost, etc, but I was still a bit clueless. They all seemed to cover roughly the same thing though. I ended up going with one company that had a package for visiting scientists as I figured that was designed for people just like me! I was a bit surprised to find something so specific, I guess it just shows how many people (scientists) come to work here.
extemporanea: a picture of the Trifid Nebula (Default)
I didn't sleep at all well last night, despite being really tired and I woke up this morning feeling pretty rough; the cold I had anticipated yesterday seemed certain to be a reality pretty soon - but it never showed up and I felt better and better throughout the day.

First thing this morning, I tried to arrange a test drive for a car. It cannot be said to have gone well. I called up and asked if they spoke English; the guy I spoke to obviously didn't have amazing English skills but he knew enough to understand me when I said I wanted to arrange a test drive and he transferred me through to the appropriate person. I then asked him if he spoke English. A little bit, he said. Now in my experience so far, everyone answers the question with "yes, a little bit" and then they are amazing at the whole English thing. This guy was the exception that proves the rule. I said that I wanted to arrange a test drive and he replied in German. I told him that I didn't understand and repeated slowly and clearly that I wanted a test drive (hoping he would understand and that "a little bit" meant he would understand phrases related to his work and that I am not the first English-speaker to want a test drive) - he replied again in German. So I just said (again) that I didn't understand and thank you and hung up because otherwise we were going to go around in circles.

This was somewhat frustrating. Mostly, I was frustrated with myself for not speaking the language, because I really don't know anything - I am taking lessons (more on that in a bit) but I can't say anything useful yet. And yeah, I was kind of pissed off at the guy, not because of the German thing (because it is totally me who sucks here - I am the one who is at fault for not speaking German, he is in no way at fault for not speaking English) but because he said yes he spoke some English when he obviously didn't. All he needed to say was no, and then I would have said okay, thanks and moved on with my life. Instead there was horrendous confusion with us both speaking different languages at each other and getting absolutely nowhere and I ended up just feeling like shit. I could have done without that.

After the phone debacle, I took a tram out to Eppelheim as I had seen a nice flat advertised there but didn't know what the area was like and wanted to have a look around. It seems okay but I don't think I want to live there; a little too far out from Heidelberg for me, and the flat was actually on the main street, which isn't ideal. The pictures did look nice though, so maybe I will have a look anyway - there's not much to be had by way of flats at the moment, so I can't afford to be too picky!

When I finally got into work, I went and got some stationary from the receptionist, my desk is looking more like someone lives there now, it's good! And then after lunch, I had my first German lesson. The teacher is great, he spent a lot of time bantering with the class, so it was a really relaxed atmosphere, but we actually got through quite a lot. I have missed the first four classes, but was able to pick things up okay, so it's not the end of the world.

After the lesson, I had a meeting with Glenn, who continues to be awesome; he's such a nice guy. At lunch (after I had explained about my telephone woes this morning) he had offered to call around for me if I needed help and then gave me lots of advice and info about cars and related issues in Germany and also offered to give me the details of the guy he went to for car insurance as he spoke good English and got good deals. So the first thing he did when we started the meeting was give me this insurance guy's details. And the repeat the offer to call around if I needed help, or just generally offer to help in anyway. Did I mention how he is awesome?

And the we chatted about science and he suggested some good papers for me to read, so it looks like I'm going to be busy reading next week. And we've arranged a time to go over the data and code he has (that I will eventually be modifying) a week monday.

Now though, now it is the weekend and I so need one of those!


extemporanea: a picture of the Trifid Nebula (Default)

October 2010

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