Wednesday, January 27, 2010

scuba diving - part 1

Unfinished post from 31st of March 2008. I will have to add part two to it soon.

As you might have noticed I was not posting much during the month of March. The main reason for that was that I was taking a scuba diving course. The course that I took was organized by SF Dive Academy, which is affiliated with UCSF. I can not say a single bad word about this scuba diving school and I can recommend it to you whole-heartedly. I thought that all instructors were really great - they were very good and patient teachers, and at the same time passionate scuba divers themselves. Throughout the course I could see that they had our best interest at heart and that they wanted us to become confident and independent divers.

The "beginner" course took four weeks and consisted of seven 3.5 hour sessions, each including both lecture and pool practice time, followed by a weekend trip to Monterey/Pacific Groove where "real" ocean dives took place.

To get a "beginner" Scuba Diver License one has to complete six ocean dives during which several different underwater tasks have to be performed, like: removing water from your mask; removing your mask completely, putting it back on and removing water from it; removing the regulator from your mouth and retrieving it; emergency ascent on one breath; removing your weight belt or BC and putting it back on.

Initially, I was not very good at removing water from my mask as apparently it is really difficult for me to breath out air through my nose while my mouth is still open. But luckily one of my instructors (and coincidentally my lab mate) thought me a trick that helped me with that.

Still I was a bit anxious before my first ocean dive as I was not completely sure if this trick would work and also because I did not feel fully comfortable in the open water. On top of that the weather/ocean conditions were not that great during that particular weekend, which was not helping me to become more relaxed.

I got already very exhausted during my first attempt to dive as my body refused to submerge in the water... How it works is that everybody has to wear a weight belt to compensate for the buoyancy of their wet suit (and their bodies). Basically, the taller and the fatter you are, the bigger wet suit you wear, and therefore, the more extra weight you need to be able to dive. This is how it works for the majority of people. But not for me, of course.

The guy at the scuba rental place estimated (by looking at me and checking my wet suite size) that I would need only 26lbs (12.5kg) of extra weight. My scuba diving instructors thought that I would need 30-32lbs (as they already knew from our swimming pool lessons that I need much more weight than anybody would expect from me - even there with short wet suit I still needed 16-18lbs, whereas everybody else was fine with 6-12lbs).

During my first attempt to dive I had 30 extra lbs on me and I was still unable to go down even when Mark (one of the instructors) was puling my legs down... It might sound funny right now, but it was very frustrating when it was actually happening - you go through this long course, you get to Monterey, and your body says - I'm not diving! Only after I got another 4lbs from other people and with Mark pulling my legs down I finally managed to go under water. 4lbs more (totaling 38lbs - 18kg) I was able to go down by myself. (For the record - it is extremely difficult to walk in scuba gear wearing extra 18kg of weights plus the weight of scuba tanks... So you do not want to have more weight on you than necessary...)

I still don't know what it is about my body that makes me so buoyant. I start to suspect that I must have air in my bones or something (I know that I also have very large lung capacity, but that alone can not explain so much extra weight!).

Here are some photos from my first dives. They are all very bad as they were taken with disposable underwater camera.

Preparations for a dive:

Mark - one of my instructors and my lab mate:

Monika can dive!

Metridium Fields:

Stayed tuned! Part two will appear here soon!


Yet another old post that never got finished. Originally written on 14th of August 2007, soon after my NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Training) course.

One night I got woken up by the earthquake. I was surprised by that, because usually I sleep extremely well and nothing is able to wake me up. Consequently that was the first earthquake that I consciously experienced. I knew that it was a small one, but still I was amazed how much the whole house was shaking. It was rated 4.42 in Richter scale. (Comment: Funny thing. I do not remember it at all...)

It is expected that within next 25 years there will be at least one major earthquake in San Francisco with strength 7 or even 8 in Richter scale. That would mean between ~27'000 to ~710'000 stronger than the one that we had here last week. I do not want to even imagine how much destruction that will cause. And in the light of that I definitely do not regret spending two full days on "civilian emergency response training" organized by San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD).

During the last bigger earthquake in San Francisco (the Loma Pietra earthquake of 1989) fire fighters realized that there is both much more work than they can handle and that there are many civilians that would like to help them but just have no idea how. Therefore, in 1991, SFFD started program called "NERT" - neighborhood emergency response training, which was aimed at teaching ordinary people basics of fire fighting search and rescue disaster medicine preparedness. This training is provided to anybody interested for free and I would definitely recommend it. Even though I took several first aid/CPR courses before, I still learned a lot of new things during this course. The idea behind this training is to "do most good for the most people", which is very different than during your regular first aid course. Here it is more important to do things quickly rather than properly. Also you learn how to evaluate condition of the building as to keep yourself safe during search and rescue procedure.

(It is already two years since I took this course, so I guess I should go for a refresher. Also I am thinking about getting a HAM radio and learning how to operate it.)

Here are several key things that I learned during my course:

Before the earthquake - the plan and preparation:
1. Keep flashlight and shoes under your bed (in the bag tied to the leg of the bed).
2. Identify the nearest police station, hospital and fire department.
3. Think of more than one escape route in case of fire.
4. Check where are utility shut-offs in your house, have a wrench next to them.
5. Prepare a reunification plan for your family. Preferably choose contact that lives outside of the affected area - it will be easier to reach them than people living in affected area.
6. Do not phone within first hour - leave the lines open for emergencies!
7. Have some coins for public phones, those will start working first.
8. Have enough supplies to survive 72h or even better 5 days. (You should have them at home, car and work)
9. Annually do safety survey of the home fire extinguisher smoke detectors.
10. In the kitchen put latches on the cabinet doors.
11. Your bed should not be located next to the window (because of falling glass).
12. Do not place any heavy objects on the upper shelves.
13. Secure heavy furniture to the walls.

During the earthquake:
1. Remain calm. Duck, cover, hold.
2. Sit down against the wall.
3. If you are outside stay as far away from buildings as possible.
4. If you are driving stop and put on emergency flashers. Remain inside the car, try to avoid bridges, overpasses and underpasses.
5. If you are downtown even after the earthquake stay inside the buildings.

Local emergency station is KCBS at 740AM. You can sign up for email or txt emergency updates here.

10 things that I should change about myself

I have 98 posts that I started writing some time ago, but somehow I never got around to finish. This is one of them. It was originally written on 6th of September 2007. I modified it today - all modifications are in italic.

It is a list of twelve (even though the title says ten) major flaws of my character on which I should be working:

1. I easily get bored
2. I am judgmental
3. I have obsessive (?) love of organization and order
4. I am too self-confident/arrogant/have too high opinion about myself
5. Occasionally I am jealous (I do not recall feeling jealous for the longest time, but I am sure I can experience this feeling at times)
6. I do not fall in love (I am wondering if I should remove this one. Is it a character flaw? And even if it is, how could I work on it?)
7. I have too high demands towards other people
8. I like things done my way
9. I am not assertive
10. I am not competitive/aggressive enough, especially at work (I was even recently told that by my boss!)
11. I am very decisive (Again, I am not sure if that's a flaw, really. Actually it often makes life easy... So if this list was to be only 10 items long, I would remove number 6 and 11 from it.)
12. I am too proud

Oh, and I am being told I am egotistical. But then, who isn't?

laughter is the best medicine

Look at this picture:

Does it also strike you that I laugh at this picture like crazy whereas other kids (Maciek, Damian, Lukasz) merely smile? My father sent me around 100 pics from my childhood and on most of them I have this amazingly wide smile. That made me realize how happy childhood I must have had. But it also made me a bit sad, because even though I consider myself to be a happy and fulfilled person, I do not think I can laugh that honestly and purely anymore.

At least not these days.

Some more childhood laughs:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Point Bonitas Lab Hike

Last Saturday I went hiking in Marine Headlands with several people from my lab (Tracy, Meredith and Elizabeth). We chose a relatively short, but enjoyable, hike from Rodeo Beach to Point Bonitas Lighthouse. I wanted to do this hike since ages, but it was difficult to plan it as the tunnel leading to the lighthouse is open for total of 9h a week... (between 12:30 pm and 3:30 pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays). I guess the reason for that is that the bridge leading to the lighthouse is not very stable and can support only two people at once... It is kind of funny to have to wait to be able to cross it.

Rodeo Beach:

Californian winter:


Three takes on Point Bonitas Lighthouse:

Coastline north of Point Bonitas:

Bunkers and Golden Gate Bridge:

Golden Gate Bridge:

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Year’s Resolutions

I was not going to write New Year’s resolutions this year as I am in a process of re-thinking my life priorities and deciding what I want to do with my life in the future. Also, in the past few years I was not very successful in keeping my resolutions (E.g. Every year I promise myself to work on my Spanish. It seems like a reasonable thing to do as I plan to travel for 6 months in South America at some point in my life. Still, so far I did not manage to get around to it.)

Regardless, I do think it is worthwhile to make resolutions as they help you realize what is important to you and motivate you to at least try to make some changes in your life.

My resolutions for this year are:
  1. I am going to put priority on work. My goal is to send out a paper for the review by the end of the year. I am planning to be done with my postdoc by the end of July 2011. (Honestly, that sounds a bit scary and completely unrealistic, but I will give it a try anyway.)
  2. I am going to travel less. I am not planning to go for any longer holidays this year. I will only go for several “extended weekend” trips. That will give me more time to work.
  3. I am going to go out less. Both to save time and money.
  4. I plan to save as much money as possible this year, so lets not go out to fancy restaurants, please :) (It makes sense to have some savings if one is thinking about restructuring their life and potentially changing career, right?)
  5. I am going to diversify my sports routine. I am thinking about going to the body pump class only twice a week, but adding at least one class of body step and one class of athletic conditioning. Of course I am still planning on playing squash. In May I am going to take private swimming classes (I can swim, but my technique is pretty poor.) I am also thinking about getting personal trainer around September to learn how to efficiently exercise on my own, in case in future I would not have access to such great gym as I have right now.
  6. By the end of the year I will have a first draft of the book ready.
  7. I am going to fast on each first Monday of the month.
  8. Every other month I will have a game or movie night at my place. I am going to put it in my calendar, so that I do not forget about it as time passes by.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Wawel is a place of great significance for the Polish people. The first historical ruler of Poland Mieszko I of the Piast dynasty chose Wawel as one of his residences. For five centuries Polish rules governed Poland from here and nearly all Polish monarchs was coronated at the Wawel Cathedral.

Wawel at night:

Renaissance courtyard of Wawel Castle:

The Wawel Cathedral:

Zygmunt's Bell:

St Mary's Basilica in Cracow

St. Mary's Basilica (Kosciol Mariacki) is a brick Gothic church located at the Old Market Square in Cracow. I've been there several times before, but somehow I forgot how spectacular it is. The interior of the church is simply breathtaking. I think we spent around two hours admiring it and I was absolutely stunned by its beauty. I would go as far as to say that it is the most beautiful man-made thing I have ever seen in my life. Sadly, the photos can not do justice to its beauty.

Inside the church:

Wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz):

The ceiling:

Ornaments above benches:

Side chapels:

The church from the outside (notice characteristic asymetric towers):


Cracow is one of my favorite cities and I try to visit it every few years. Last time I've been there around six years ago with an international group of friends from Dresden. I was very proud that all of them thought Cracow was very beautiful, "even prettier than Florence" (that was a claim made by an Italian!). My parents haven't been there for even a longer time, so we were all excited to have a chance to visit it on our way back home from the mountains.

We did not do anything special there. We only visited Wawel and Kosciol Mariacki, and the rest of the time we spent wandering here and there, and eating in the restaurants.

Cracow Old Town:

Wyspianski's paintings:

Entrance to the St Paul's and St Peter's Church:

St Paul's and St Peter's Church at night:


Small shops on Old Market Square:

St Wojciech's Church:

Sukiennice (Drapers' Hall):

Christmas Eve dinner

Even though initially I had been very excited about going for Christmas to the mountains, the moment came that I felt sad about not being in my family home for Christmas Eve dinner. My family has very strong Christmas traditions that I appreciate a lot and which I would like to preserve for my own family as well for many years to come. For example we all dress up in our best clothes for the Christmas Eve dinner and also wear elegant clothes during next two Christmas days, even if we would not be leaving the house during that time at all. Also during these two and a half days we spend 100% of time together and if somebody would like to do something on their own, he/she has to ask for a permission to the rest of the family. In this busy world that we live in, there are very few moments that we can complete dedicate to our families, and that's why I appreciate Christmas as a family holiday so much.

This feeling of temporal sadness disappeared from my heart as soon as a traditional band from the mountains entered the restaurant where we were having our Christmas Eve dinner and started playing and singing Christmas carols. Actually, it felt really wonderful to be sharing this moment with random strangers. Especially that the whole room was singing the carols together.

"Gorale" band:

The Christmas Eve dinner in Poland always starts with sharing the Christmas wafer and exchanging wishes:

After that twelve-course dinner follows. Dishes change from one region in Poland to the other one, but almost always you get dried fruit compote and herring in oil:

It is almost impossible to imagine a Christmas Eve dinner without a red beet soup called barszcz, in which we usually put dumplings filled with mushrooms and cabbage:

This dish was a surprise for my family. It is a dried plums soup with beans. Quite interesting I must say:

This dish was also surprising to us. Usually we would have cabbage with mushrooms, but here it is served with yellow peas:

Even though potatoes are crucial ingredient of Polish cuisine, usually my family would not serve them during Christmas Eve dinner. But somehow they made their way to the table in the restaurant:

There were also two kinds of fried fish served: carp and cod. Carp is traditionally the main course served during the dinner:

My favorite dish is always kluski with poppy seeds. Apparently the more you eat of them, the more money you will have in the coming year. Trust me, it is a big challenge to be able to eat any of them at all after eating so many of other dishes.

The dinner ended with a fruitcake:

All in all, it was a very nice experience to have a Christmas Eve dinner outside our family house. It clearly demonstrated that it is not important where you celebrate it, but with whom.