Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I am getting a car

For the first time in my life I am joining the motorized, environmentally challenged, exhaust-producing crowd.

After copious research into car reliability, spare-part prizes and the like, I settled onto the Mitsubishi Colt safety on the left. (I also considered an Opel Corsa, a Seat Ibiza and a Renault Twingo, thus earning much ridicule from some of my friends) I hope I will be happy with it, ultimately it was the ABS and AC that convinced me, since my second choice, the Opel Corsa (or Vauxhall as it is known across the lake) had neither, nor servo-steering. I ended up paying a bit less than 3500 Euro, which is probably a pretty good indication that I'd be unable to bargain if my life depended on it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


There was this humongous rainbow on Monday evening. Of course my beloved SLR camera was at Uni, so all I had was my crappy phonecam. So I did what anyone would do - I took a gazillion of shots, and hoped that autostitch would be able to make something of it.

Well, it, worked, sort of. Unfortunately the phonecam messed up the colours completely, they varied widely from shot to shot, thence the weird sky. And the rainbow was much more vibrant. In the future I will know to schlep my camera with me wherever I go.


Ha, take that, evil phonecam! Picasa to the rescue! By judicious use of colour temperature and the like I got something that vaguely reminds me of the actual view. All hail Picasa!

Evidence of Dementia in Swiss Companies

I am used to seeing my name written wrong. I just live too far west, nobody here can cope with "Legradic". Even "Boris" is a stretch sometimes. But that's all right, I can live with it. I am not even trying to pronounce my name properly even more, I just go with the French pronunciation, which saves me a lot of hassle, and makes me a dirty conformist. I can live with that, too.

But when I received the envelope on the left yesterday, I was a bit flabbergasted. Picking it up, I guessed it would contain the labels for my door and postbox, so I thought: "Shit, they couldn't read my handwriting, for now and evermore I shall be "Logrodic". Not so, because to my delight the plate itself was spelled right. Except that I am not, and have never been (nor do I have the intention to become) a "Doris". But then, the small plates had a "B" for the initial.

So tomorrow I will try to call the company, and ask them to explain how in the world they could come up with three different spellings and not notice. Without doubt I won't understand the explanation.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sparing Sparrows

I love my girlfriend, but sometimes she hampers my photographic development. Point in case:

Last weekend we visited the Chateau Morges, which doubles as the local military museum. They had an exhibition about women in martial arts I wanted to see, and because I am cruel I dragged her with me. The exhibition was not the greatest - turns out it was about drawings made by a martial artist who thought that meant he could draw as well. His technique wasn't too bad, but in style his paintings reminded me of the better executed japanese manga - something I would have drooled over with 18 (Hey, hot chicks with swords!), but not something I would put in my living room now.

But the highlight of the day was when my princess spotted a sparrow drowning in a public fountain. I was all for rescuing it, too, but I wanted to document the process as well. Alas, before I could say "Wait for me to take a couple of pictures of it while it drowns, love" the light of my life had snatched my subject out of the water. Not only did she thus destroy the authenticity of my photos, she flatly refused to pitch it back in for a minute or so!

How am I supposed to take dramatic pictures of atrociously asphyxiating avians if they are readily rescued by resolute, yet radiant girlfriends?

Then, deploring my dastardly deeds, said girlfriend did debase my demonic deposition. Forced to fight for friendly feelings, I ferociously caught flies for the feebly flapping nestling.

Not that I got any, those bastards are fast.

I have posted pictures of Morges before, so I will leave you with just one I took from the tower of the Chateau. (Which has a nice collection of halberds, [no wonder, since this was the main weapon of the Swiss in medieval times], swords and whatnot)

Oh, and the young sparrow recovered inside of an hour. Last I heard of it, it was studying martial arts with aforementioned master, no doubt to be able to defend himself against photographers in the future...

Monday, June 25, 2007

more plasma and picasa

Here is a couple more plasma photos from my experiments this morning. Nothing special, the main reason for posting this is that I have been playing around with Picasa since last week.

I am quite impressed by it, it's fast, powerful, and easy to use. It will probably replace Irfanview for quick photo-manipulation for me (Not as main viewer though, because Irfanview starts faster). And I just had to try the BlogThis!-button in Picasa, hence this post.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 22, 2007

All the colors in the rainbow...

Voilà, a couple of plasma pictures, as promised. All of them are in Argon at 1 mBar of pressure, except the closeup of the stainless steel electrode.

Meanwhile I can even tell you where the colours come from:

The bright blue ones have a brass electrode, and the blue light consists of copper and zinc lines. Pink means the power is not enough to excite metal, so all you can see is the Argon 2p - 3s lines. The bright green pictures are steel electrodes, in the one on the left you can also see the steel glowing white-hot. And finally, the yellow plasma is said to be (according to Fraga et al. 2003) the excitation of a Rydberg state of CF4 which dissociates into an emitting CF3* fragment. The CF4 comes from the Teflon used in this particular electrode. Teflon is (CF2)n, and seems to outgas CF4, leaving behind a Carbon deposition on the electrode.

There you go, all mysteries revealed!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thunderstorm... again

I am currently sitting at my new desk and waiting for a thunderstorm to pass so I can get to the EPFL without drowning. We've had thunderstorms here in Lausanne almost daily for the last four weeks or so, but generally the have been in the evening. Not today, though.

There was a hint of sunshine around 0700h, but minutes later the view form my balcony (have I mentioned what a great balcony I have?) was like the photo on the left: Ominous.

A couple of minutes later, it was raining cats and dogs, in liquid form. See photo on the right. It is grainy, because I had to use ISO 1600 to get enough shutter speed to capture the water sheeting off the roof on the left, you can see it if you squint a little.

Now it's 0750h, and it will be GoreTex for me I guess. Maybe I should also take my snorkel...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New Desk/Table

Voilà, our new table and chairs. They might get a new coat of paint, depending on the general state of laziness here.

Also: Butt-ugly couch-table. A steal at 10 CHF. (~ 6.66 Euro). This will definitely get a coat of paint. Or three.

Coming soon: Green Plasma! An explanation for yellow plasma (maybe)! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


That's my improvised bookshelf, which I won't need any longer. Today was a "vente de mobilier" at the EPFL, where they sell old furniture. I got me four chairs, a desk, a small couch-table and two hip-high shelves for ...

... 75 CHF. I feel so thrifty now! Tomorrow my collegue Ben, his big car and myself will transport all that stuff to the flat, so there might be photos. I nearly got a huge cupboard as well, but it was solid wood and not easily (if at all) taken apart, so I left it there for lack of lorry. Sigh.

Also, Võ-Vietnam training today was crazy, and I can barely manage to type. Come to think of it, I will dispense with eating and go to bed.

Good night!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chocolate Cake

My girlfriend finally finished her exams in Geneva, and to celebrate that I baked the chocolate cake from dietarians hell. No flour. Just chocolate, butter, eggs and almonds. Enough energy to supply a mid-sized town for approximately five years.

As you can see, she liked it ;)

In other news, my plant collection is steadily growing. From left to right: Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Chloë (Chlorophytum comosum), Pierre le lierre (Hedera Helix), Ficky (Ficus benjaminii) and Rose (Rosmarinus officinalis). I will not rest until our balcony resembles a jungle!

Friday, June 15, 2007


I finally managed to melt a piece of pumping grid!

Of course, destruction is always my goal, but in this case it is important to be able to match the destruction of the bigger reactors in my small test reactor. If I can't, then there is no point in continuing, and I would have to change my design, or move to a bigger reactor.

But now I got move forward with testing. For one, I need to replace the Teflon (the white stuff in the picture on the bottom) with aluminium, because it can't stand the heat and melts before the piece that is actually supposed to be tested hasthe same kind of damage we see in a bigger reactor in my small one, so I can finished melting. Also, I have the nasty suspicion that the beautiful yellow colour in the middle picture is caused by some kind of chemiluminescence by the degrading Teflon.

Anyway, what a great way to end the week! I can't wait for Monday, when I get to destroy some more stuff! Wheeee!

Swiss Circuitousity

Sometimes I find the Swiss unfathomably circuitous and cumbersome. I have ranted before about the fact that with a new bank-account you are limited to 300 CHF/month of purchases via your debit-card. Not credit-card, mind you, debit. Also, with a new cell-phone contract you can't call international numbers for three months. And now I tried to get internet via cable. I went to Citycable to get their basic internet flat-rate thing (which is quite cheap at 20 CHF/month, I paid 44 Euros in Vienna!), and signed their contract. They told me that a technician would contact me inside of two weeks. So far so good.

One week later I got a letter telling me to call them and give them my CC-number, which I could kindly read off my last bill. That was rather hard, because I was a new customer, so I called them. After half an hour of soothing music, they forwarded me to some other departement, who asked me for the name of the previous tenant. I gave it to them, and they told me to call me back today.

I did, got my CC-number, was told to dial the number of another department of the same company, gave them the stupid number - and was told a technician would contact me shortly.

Now I realize the whole rigmarole is caused by the fact that your flat has no number in Lausanne. I live in Avenue de France 18C, and if you want to know where in that five-story building, you have to ask me, or search the name-tags of all the doors. So for Citycable to tie me to a physical outlet, they need to know how to find me in their database, and they can only do that by matching me with my previous tenant. Fine. But why in God's name didn't they say so on the form I filled out when I signed their contract?

And why are there no numbers on the flats anyway?

So please, Swiss institutions, please stop mollycoddling me. I know what I am doing with my debit-card, I promise I won't start calling Moldawian sex-hotlines all night on my cell phone, I will tell anyone whom I tell my address where to find my flat. Stop protecting me from myself!

Thank you.

(The photo? Lac Leman in April. And a crow.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I just got my first call from a telemarketer. They are not as ubiquitous in Europe as on hears of in the US - in fact, I never once got a call in Austria.

But the Swiss seem more aggressive (or are times changing? O tempora, o mores!), so some assurance-guy just called me. And I had to listen to him for nearly a whole minute, before I figured out what he wanted - the call was in French, you see. When I told him I was not interested, he predictably sped up his spiel, so I hung up on him. Which is a pity, since now I can't write an angry email to his company to complain, because I did not get it's name. Oh well, next time then.

The photo is of my new RF-electrode, whose holes are not only different-size, but also vaty in depth. But here the discharge is blazing away at 500 Watts, no quarters given, so all of them are lit. At the bottom there are some pesky parasitic discharges - I guess I will have to install some kind of dielectric screen there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Pöpi is the mascot of the "Fachschaft Physik", the physics student's union at the Vienna Technical University. The Fachschaft was the place where I hung around nearly my entire time from '99 to '07, when I wasn't abroad. There were dirty couches there, cheap beer, all my friends - in short, I never did see a reason for being anywhere else, including my flat. Sometimes I, you know, even studied there.

Anyway, Pöpi is a kind of Φ with eyes. And today, when I should have taken a series of measurements regarding hollow cathodes, I decided to summon Pöpi in my reactor, instead. First, everything went just peachy:

Bathed in glorious luminescence, Pöpi descended down from the heavens. He smiled upon and said unto me: Hast thou prepared that which is my due?

And I said: "Huh?"

And he said: "As per ancient contract thou shalt give that which is as thy blood!"

And then I understood, and I swallowed. "Look, Pö.. ahh, Lord Pöpi, it's like this, I was pretty thirsty earlier, and ..."

And Pöpi bellowed: "What?"

And terrible flames wreathed his countenance. He bellowed in his agony and wrath. "Thou hast drunken that which is mine? You bloody bastard! I should..."

With effort he reined in his ire, and coldly furious proceeded to pronounce my doom:

"Thy experiment shall break down, yay, even unto the third generation shall it fail in ever-increasingly peculiar ways! Es sei denn - hast no a Gamperl?"

With that Pöpi descended, enveloped in a sulfuric blaze...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bad Cabling

I was astonished when I started up PADEX this morning. Suddenly, it was very hard to get a plasma, and I couldn't match above 80 Watts input power - which is not too good considering I want to go to 500 Watts now and maybe beyond eventually.

I fiddled around with the matchbox, installed another coupling capacitor - nothing. I had a good look at the RF signal on the 'scope, and there I noticed strange peaks, like you would get when there is arcing. So I shut off the lights, thinking that maybe there were some tiny sparks in a corner of the reactor which I couldn't see with the lights on.

I saw sparks alright, but from below the experiment. PADEX has been in use in one form or the other since the 80s, and the cabling is... suboptimal. I had avoided changing the cabling, because it involves taking everything apart again, and is a hassle, and it worked. Well, up to now. The RF power line goes through an old aluminium box that is not in use anymore, and when I opened the box I was greeted by a cloud of smoke that electrical elements use to indicate their displeasure.

It took me the whole day, but now it's fixed.
I hope.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Living room

Well, only room, to tell the truth. To the right, my trusty inflatable mattress. To the left, the cheapest table I could find. In the back, a deck chair I got for free, since it collapses now and then. (That's alright though, keeps me on my toes.)

A bit frugal yet, but then the girlfriend hasn't finished her exams yet, and I wouldn't dare giving all my money to IKEA without her input. My aesthetic sense has been ignored for so long it sits whimpering in a corner of my dark soul. No help there.

See my nice balcony in the back? It's got an awning. Have I mentioned my nice balcony?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Tales from the Lab

I didn't post for a week, and the reason for that was just plain laziness and low motivation on my part. Additionally, I spent a very frustrating week in the lab, due to stupidity on my part.

It all started last Friday. I had been puzzled the last few days about the lack of self-bias in my plasma. An asymmetric capacitively coupled plasma (asymmetric is just a fancy way of saying the RF electrode and the mass electrode are not the same size) develops a self-bias - the RF electrode charges up a bit. But I was seeing an absurdly low self-bias - millivolts instead of tens of volts. The reason for this behavior turned out to be two things: I had changed my matchbox from an L to a π matching network, and the RF generator was not DC decoupled.

A π-network has not capacitor between generator and plasma, hence it couples also in DC. Generators are normally decoupled, safe the one I am using. Those two things combined meant that there was a DC short to mass - no self-bias could develop.

The solution to that problem is easy - just install a decoupling capacitor somewhere between generator and plasma. I did that (and a couple of other things, and that would come back to haunt me!), and could not match anymore. So I fiddled around a bit with different sized coils in my matchbox. Nothing. So I dug out a Network Analyzer, with whom I proceeded to, well analyze my network. I calculated the size of the new coil, made it, put it into my matchbox - no matching.

Phillipe (of our group) finally told me that the readings were strange for a reactor, and after a couple of hours of fiddling around, we found out that the Network Analyzer was broken. Fortunately, there was still an old, analog one kicking around. I dug it out of some dusty cupbord, tried it, and couldn't even calibrate it.

As a last (well, next to last, but I really didn't want to do a gazillion Voltage-Current measurements) I got an Impedance-meter, which finally worked. So I measured the impedance of PADEX, designed a new coil and -SUCCESS! Or so I thought. I was able to match as long as there was no plasma. As soon as it ignited I had about 50% reflected power, which is a Bad Thing TM.

So in despair I went back to the old configuration. Then I started changing things bit by bit. Shorter cables, remove mass electrode, remove screening from RF electrode, add decoupling capacitor... This is what I should have done in the first place - never change too much of your system at once! Anyway, I was ready to jump in and modify my matchbox at any step, but I didn't have to. Matching can be hard to find, especially with π-networks, but by slowly changing the system I was able to keep up with the changing characteristics. In the end, all the hassle with network analyzers and whatnot was for nothing. I feel dumb now.