Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

From Vuiteboef to Ste. Croix

Sunday the student's union here at the EPFL organised a hike for the PhD-students. Personally, I think they were in collusion with the administration, and it was their way to tell us to, well, take a hike. But that's just me...

The hike was a big success - 49 people showed up. It was a pleasurable half-days walk, and while I was too slow to get the chamois, I did manage to snap a couple of pictures of a big heron we startled.

Unfortunately I do not have my tele-lens yet, so I had to crop the photos rather closely -but at least the silly bird is still recognizable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dagger and Fruit

Will you look at the cool dagger the best of all girlfriends brought me from India? It is made for killing horses I believe, although I kill my envelopes with it, most of the time.

See how big it is? On the photo on the left I put some bananas next to it. They were also slain with my new dagger, as were the horses of the wagon that dragged them up to my flat. And the teamster? Better not ask...

Well, okay, I admit it. I was using some weird kind of overpriced dwarf-bananas I bought. For some reason, the Swiss call it banane-pomme - I can't see what it has to do with apples. It tasted - well, like a banana. Perhaps a mite stronger than your normal, garden-variety banana, but not worth paying ten times as much - except if you want to lie about the size of your... dagger. Which is still good for slaying things with, you know. Only, it might take some time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lemon Cake

I tried another one of Mr. Olivers recipes this weekend.

It's one of those beat-butter-and-suger-until-creamy things, which were only made by masochists before the advent of the electric whisk. Actually, I think cakes like this are the real reason women were condemned to become housewives back in the day; it was all a confectioner-led conspiracy, you see. The electric whisk surely did more for emancipation than ... aeh ... all the rubber-suits in the world. Yes.

Anyway, I am accusing Mr. Oliver (or rather, his nan, for whom he invented it) of having an overly sweet tooth. About 315 g of sugar go into the making of this cake, and it was nearly to sweet for my girlfriend, I kid you not. In the lead of the recipe (yes, Mr. Olivers recipes have leads. Deal with it.) he mentions that one of his nan's friends liked it so much that he choked on his false teeth and had to be rescued by a Heimlich-maneuver. I rater suspect a diabetes-related seizure instead, but you never know.

If you want to try it yourself, mix equal amounts (115g) of butter, sugar, self-rising flour (beware of the flour-zombie crawling out of your waste-bin and strangling you at night) and ground almonds together with four eggs, 30g of poppy seeds and the juice and zest of two lemons. Try to take organic-ones, lest you grow funny-shaped appendages due to the anything-zides lemons generally come coted with.
Oh, and the right order is rather important, too: butter and sugar, eggs one after another, then the rest.
Bake at 180 Centigrade until ready, then drizzle with a sirup made from sugar (90g) and more lemon-juice, let cool down for a little bit and then glaze. Although you might want to cut down on the sugar a bit...


God damn it, I just read the wiki-page about Jamie Oliver I linked to above, and if you would like to meet the guy while he is still alive, hop into a plane to England as soon as possible, because he is not long for this mortal coil. Why? Because he named his children Poppey Honey and Daisy Boo. Gods, what was the man thinking? Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! Can you imagine what it must be like in school, nay, even in kindergarten to be called Daisy Boo?

If that is not a justification for fratricide...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Võ Vietnam

On Saturday, there was this big demonstration of my club. Thanks to the flu from hell, I couldn't participate since I missed out on training for it. At least that meant I could take pictures.

It was dark, I didn't bring my tripod and I haven't yet bought a image stabilized tele lens, which would have been absolutely necessary.
Are you reading this, dear? Absolutely necessary, I say!


Well, well, well. I just wanted to add a link a review of the to the droolworthy Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS on Ken Rockwells site (check it out if you are interested in photography tips and/or camera reviews, it's awesome), when I saw that there is a new lens out this october: The Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS (see photo on the left). The zoom range would work perfectly well with my 18-55 zoom, and it is image stabilized, and it's only about CHF 350, which is nice when compared to the CHF 1500 you will pay for the 70-200 f/4 IS.

But where is the drawback?

  • It is a EF-S, so it only works on Canons small crop factor SLRs, like the 40D, 30D, 20D, 20Da (astronomical), Digital Rebel XTi, Digital Rebel XT and the original Canon Digital Rebel (which I happen to own). So if I ever upgrade to a 1.3 or even full-frame SLR, I would have to buy a new lens.
  • You lose a stop at small angles
  • There are no reviews out yet
  • I am not too sure, but I don't think it uses USM focusing, meaning that you can't override autofocus manually, and it will be a bit slower.
I am going to get one anyway.

Ahh, where was I? Yes, bad image quality. I had to crank up the ISO, and use much too slow shutter speeds, hence graininess and overall blur.

The top picture is of Maître Cann, who has a school in Bin-Dinh (spelling?), and showed absolutely awesome Taos (or Katas, for the Japanese-minded of you) with the sword, the double-spear and weaponless. This guy can move! He is without doubt the best martial artist I have ever met.

His part was the best of what was an awesome 2 hours of martial arts, and I am looking forward to this evenings training!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Pretty Plum Pastry

Although I am not too sure if pastry is the technically correct term (it's a yeast-dough) - but I did it for the sake of alliteration, which excuses much.

I recently bought some plums which were not too tasty. They were quietly rotting away in some dark corner of my fridge, resigned to their eventual fate of being rejected as waste, when they unexpectedly saved the day:

I had, in a sudden fit of insanity, forgotten to buy a sufficient amount of chocolate for the weekend, an unforgivable faux-pas as the forlorn wailing of my girlfriend made obvious.
To safe the day (and my hide) there was nothing else to do than activate my mad cake-cooking-skillz:
  • 500 g flour
  • yeast
  • 0.25 l milk
  • bit of sugar
  • salt
  • plums
Let the dough rise to twice its volume, then spread (with my patented alcoholic rolling pin - the bottle 2006 Riesling above) and cover with plum-slices. Shove into the pre-heated oven at 220 centigrade until done.

Obviously I did something right, since Charlotte forgave me... eventually. Unfortunately I was too slow to photograph my oeuvre in all its glory - but at least I was able to snap a photo before it was all gone!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Diagrams and figures

I have been looking for a simple, lightweight program to draw figures and diagrams with. Apparently, those Apple-adherents swear by omniGraffle, but unfortunately that is Maclusive (sometimes I crack myself up, I really do).

Fortunately, a bout of ennui and the aimless web-surfing following it yielded a solution today: Inkscape

Very intuitive and fast, can export in encapsulated postscript, and has a wealth of hidden features that are, well, hidden. Hence the intuitiveness. My first oeuvre is to be admired on the right: The setup of the RF electrode in one of my experiments.

Also, I am following a course about Mathematica this term (hey, it's easy credits!). Mathematica is interesting, and I am playing with the idea of programming some simple evolutionary algorithms for my demonstration in december. But plotting data is a pain in the ass. This I found out when in the first ardour of learning a new software, when I wanted to plot my spectroscopic data. Bad idea. Formatting your plot takes all manners of weird commands that are cunningly hidden in the cryptic help system (I am using version 6.0, in which said system was overhauled and upgraded - go figure), and there doesn't seem to be a way to do the same over the GUI, if you want to just try out something quickly.

Consequently, I went back to Matlab for all my data manipulation needs. Here are some spectra. Pretty, are they not? Note the weird continuum of CF4, of which I have written before (see the corresponding plasma here). Only this time, it is pure CF4, not decomposition of Teflon.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The experimentalists best friend

The experimentalists best friend is the small red pin on the right. Push it in, and the nasty red light above will go away, and you can finally conduct your experiments to your hearts content under the warm glow of the green light above.

Correct, this little friend is the security override. I have written time and again about the host of safety features that hinders helps to keep us safe here at the EPFL. Here is how we deal with them:

In the picture below you can see a whole bunch of the little greedy green lights that have to be satisfied so that pushing the big blue button (see red arrow) will open the valve to your coveted toxic vapours. And if you look closely, you can see all my little friends below, keeping them happy...

Sometimes I think safety regulations were written by a representative of the pin-industry...