2021: A year in review

Good (local time option) world! I am back with another year in review. This time we are back to thematic groupings, since time ceased existing (not really but something like that). The intro won’t be long because either (a) you also lived through 2021 and are probably quite tired OR (b) you are doing some sort of history research; in both cases let’s not waste too much time.

Travel

Two major trips this year, one back home to Chisinau, Moldova, and one to Paris, France. Let’s start with Chisinau.

I went back to Chisinau around May 20th, which meant that I got to spend my birthday back home for the first time since 2014. Now, if you know me, you will realize that this fact actually meant nothing in particular, since I am not the biggest fan of my birthday. However, having home cooked meal that I didn’t even have to cook, I’ll take that as a solid option. Other than that my visit was quite routine: some paperwork here and there, some bars (mostly in the city center), and a missed opportunity to see Morgenshtern live. On the brighter side I got a personal tour of some artworks by @e.art.n and got to hang out with two adorable beagles for a bit.

Paris was amazing. That’s it. I had a good time being a tourist, as expected the food was great and weather cloudy. Versailles was quite interesting, gave me flashbacks to Hermitage. Louvre was also quite cool, and just as expected Mona Lisa is way too overhyped. Musee d’Orsay was sadly somewhat disappointing due to subpar room organization and endless flocks of people. Musee de l’Orangerie was the highlight of the trip. However, not due to the water lilies, but due to a temporary exhibit of Chaïm Soutine’s works. Say what you want about my taste in art, but now I have a nice bœuf magnet on my fridge (pic of the original below).

You thought I was done with the trips? Nope. Minor trip time: Denver, Colorado and Yosemite, Sacramento and Berkeley, California. Both Rocky Mountain and Yosemite National Parks were great. Outdoors with beautiful views, long (apparently they were labeled as strenuous) hikes, and nice animal spotting episodes (skunk, pika, marmot?, elk, and a black bear cub). Sacramento and Berkeley allowed me to reconnect with some of my friends who I haven’t seen in a very long time. It was nice to see familiar faces accompanied by the reminiscence of days past.

Books/Shows/Films/Audio

This year I have read the following books:

  • Hilbert by Constance Reid
  • The end of everything by Katie Mack
  • Flash boys by Michael Lewis
  • You look like a thing and I love you by Janelle Shane
  • What is life? by Paul Nurse
  • The statue within by François Jacob

Sadly all of the above are non-fiction books, since my two attempts (The servant by Fatima Sharafeddine, and Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut) at reading some fiction failed at various points in the corresponding books. I am planning to actually read both, but that is a job for 2022.

Overall my reading pace and habits were sporadic. I read What is life? in a single evening (the book is short), and I binged The statue within for a bit shy of 11 hours on the flight back from Paris. At the same time after my return from Moldova (where I finished The end of everything) I had a two month hiatus, which got interrupted by reading spree of August, which then gave way to desolation of September-October.

All six books make it into my recommendations list, but if I had to only pick one it would be What is life?. The book is brief, crisp and extremely inspiring. Ideas explained in the book hit a great balance between simplicity and profoundness. Finally, I guess since I am myself somewhat involved in biology, I think this book gives a great in on the modern view of life.

Besides books I have discovered a wonderful world of Thelonious Monk‘s music, and got extra excited about long awaited new album from Oxxxymiron. In the realm of TV shows I picked up and binged Expanse after returning from France, and earlier in the year watched Dopesick and Arcane. Also for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic I went to the cinema to see Dune and it was amazing.

Work/Research/Classes

It’s been a busy year for work. For a quick summary you can check my Google Scholar profile, but the main focus this year has been on the wastewater monitoring. Long story short: SARS-CoV-2 sheds into human waste, so by screening wastewater we can get insights into what’s happening in a region (e.g. which variants of concern circulate around) [1, 2, 3, 4, 5].

I’ve felt that my overall rate of paper reading went down in 2021. My suspicion is that I suffered from what I’ll call “COVID research fatigue”. High pace of anything that has to do with SARS-CoV-2 research meant that every week I got an extra set of 5-10 open tabs added to my never ending life of 4 browser windows. Thus, reading non-SARS-CoV-2 papers was much more exciting, but due to the energy expenditure and limited battery in my brain it also was less frequent. Overall I think I’ve been keeping up with most of the stuff I was interested in, but I wish I had those extra 4 hours every day just for reading.

Classes wise this year has been aggressively meh, with the sole exception of Information Theory (ELEC 535 @ Rice) course by Ashutosh Sabharwal. It was a delightful course, which while only covering the basics still managed to inspire me, and as a result led to me going doing down a few lengthy rabbit holes of reading (maybe one day I’ll write more on that).

Finally, I spent 6 weeks this summer working as a Research Mentor at the Summer STEM Institute (fully online). I have mixed feelings about the experience, since on one hand I learned a lot about trying to lead multiple independent research projects, but on the other hand the end results could have been more impressive. Overall, I take this experience as an exercise in management, which pointed out to me some weak spots I plan to address in the future.

Social

The social life in 2021 was full of ups and downs, as we were navigating the world after the vaccination, but with re-emerging threats posed first by Delta and then by the Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2. One constant presence in my social life was the D&D campaign in the (heavily customized) world of Ixalan led by the long standing DM of our group Diego Bejarano. Ability to escape the world for 4 hours every week and explore dense jungles, tall mountains, and vast oceans (and rivers), while RPing as a devil from Hell turned into a giant pug (named Pugmeister) or Jinx from League/Arcane is definitely something that helped me stay sane otherwise.

Coda

Overall it’s been an incredibly busy year that had some good and some bad in it. I don’t think I managed to write up a particularly exhaustive review, and it definitely ended up being more biased towards the end of the year. I guess my memory does some sort of exponentially moving weighted average over the experiences, so that’s what I end up with without a weekly journal.

As is customary, I will try to write more on this blog, and most likely I won’t. See you in a year or so!

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