Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Saturday, March 31, 2007

`Tis my office (my desk is at the right) - where I hang out when not in the lab. Note the careful order that pervades everything...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Physicist Pictures Proudly Presents

a CRPP production


(Peculiar Assymetric Discharge EXperiment)

In a laboratory in faraway Lausanne,
removed from the everyday concerns of humanity


Harboring secret discharge experiments in its womb...

A Champion of Humanity

or its Bane?

Only time will tell...


Coming soon to a laboratory near you!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Refrigeration and matching

When I finally got PADEX all squeaky clean and reassembled, the flowmeters calibrated, a new, full Argon bottle installed, the pumps hooked up and running, shortly, everything ready to go, I ran afoul of refrigeration.

More powerful RF-generators (more powerful here means above 100 Watts or so) have to be water-cooled. This in itself is of no great import, since there is a refrigeration-water circuit in the lab. Unfortunately, the pressure it carries is too big for my widdle RF-generator. Theoretically, I could hook it up to the industrial water circuit, but that won't work either, because that is too cold.

"Too cold?" Simplicio might ask. "Isn't the point of refrigeration to re-frigerare, to make cool again?"

"Indeed," Salviati would answer, "that is normally the case. But in this instance, one would do well to remind oneself of the original meaning of the word 'refrigerationem', i.e. 'mitigation of heat', originally in sickness. We want to prevent our RF-generator from falling in extremo, viz either burning up from heat or, equally dangerous, cooling down beyond the dew-point. Should water vapor condense inside it's equally puissant and fragile electric components, short-circuits, melting, explosions, blood, death and war might well be the consequence."

"So the cooling liquid does not always cool?"

"What it does, dear Simplicio, is remove an excess of heat, but not beyond the point of lowering the temperature of the generator below a certain point. Moderation in all things!"

We leave Simplicio and Salviati now be, which is always a good idea when Salviati starts quoting Terence.

After I had the refrigeration problem solved, the Matchbox promptly seized up and burned down, as Matchboxes are wont to do. The Matchbox sits between generator and plasma, and matches the impedance of one to the other, hence its name. (If the impedance does not match, part of the power delivered by the generator will be reflected back, and melting, burning, explosions and death will ensue, again.)

Photos of the dead Matchbox may follow later.

Update 1510h:

No photos of matchboxes, I have had it with them. All three of them. Despite (or is it because?) my mad solder-iron skills I did not succeed in resurrecting any of them. They shall molder in their graves even unto the second coming, beneath my notice, and I shall order a new one.

Anyway, here is a photo of my current mood instead - originally taken in Australia, believe it or not. Kosciuszko National Park.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nice day

Theoretically, there is a very nice view from the CRPP over Lac Léman (= Lake Geneva) to the mountains beyond. Not from my window, alas! (closely related to the French hélas by the way, form Old French ha and las , meaning ah and unfortunate respectively) my vista only encompasses a rather ugly wall. But if I take a couple of steps outside I see this (Done with Autostitch):

If, and that's a big if, there is no fog. It seems that in springtime, Lausanne and indeed all of the shore of Lac Léman experience the meteorological phenomenon that is fog. When the warm air meets the cold water of the lake, visibility drops and I can't take nice pictures, even though I bike along the shore of Lac Léman at an insanely early time each morning. But yesterday several things coincided, namely 1) The sun came out, 2) I had my camera with me 3), there was no fog and 4) I stepped outside in the evening, which enhances the probability of 3) immensely. Hence the above photo.

Also, here is a swan that was too slow to escape my lightning-fast reflexes (and my beloved SLR camera).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Yesterday I wanted to duplicate the keys of my flat for my girlfriend. So I went to the local Mr. Minit, and asked the guy there to make me a duplicate. I gave him both keys, and said: "I'll be back in 10 minutes or so?"
He said something like: "Attendez, ça ne durera que 30 secondes" (Do you use futur simple here? Anyway, it should mean 'This will take but 30 seconds')

He was wrong. It took him 20 seconds, for both keys. And I was left wondering why I even bother with locks? The guy had maybe 40 templates to choose from, and then it took him 10 seconds to duplicate a key. I guess if he stood in front of my flat and wanted in, it would take him about a minute. Not that there would be something to steal, mind. Except my Phoenix Pearl tea.

I have to get a new lock.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Plasma and Summer time

Since I do not have any nice pictures of plasmas here in Lausanne yet, here is one I took at the ANU, in Canberra. You can see myself, trying to fake cognition. In front of me is an inductively coupled, low pressure radio frequency discharge in argon. (Thence the nice violet light, if you pump more power in it will eventually turn green.) The glowing thing is the so-called source-tube, where the plasma is generated. It then diffuses into the appropriately called diffusion chamber on the right, where measurements and whatnot take place. The source tube is normally covered with a metal mesh, to shield the lab equipment from the radiation of the RF-antenna (the spindly thing wrapped around the source-tube); I took it off for this picture.

Oh, and the radiation is not dangerous (not all radiation is dangerous, indeed, people have been known to survive direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight, radio-waves, decimeter-waves (i.e. mobiles), heat radiation, muons and neutrinos (to mention two kinds of particular radiation),...), but it can mess up your ammeter something fierce!

On a completely unrelated subject, I will make a few quick depreciating comments about summer time (or daylight saving time, for any American English adherents out there).

Summer time sucks. It has no provable environmental benefits, few if any economic benefits, a couple of real economic drawbacks, it seems to lead to more accidents, and last but not least: I had to get up an hour too early today!

T'was not one of Ben's brighter ideas, let me tell you. (Here is  what he said about it - completely loco, if you ask me.) And why in the name of His Noodliness did Austria, Germany and a whole gaggle of Central European countries decide to adopt it in 1980? Probably went something like this:

American Ambassador: You really should adopt DST as well, you know.

Austrian Ambassador: Vhat?

German Ambassador:
Ve could be se Owerlords of time!

French Ambassador:
Magnifique! I zay oui!

Update: I cannot seem to get rid of the linebreak after the (Here above. Curse you, Blogspot!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


In the summer I became interested in trebuchets, and one weekend in the lab I spontanously decided to build one. You can see the result in the photos. It worked quite well, throwing it's payload about 2 meters. The counterweight consists of four AA cells.

I made it out of ceramic tubes lying around in the lab - scrap, or so I thought at the time. These are ideal for trebuchets - immensly strong and lightweight. They are also unbelievably expensive, and my supervisor Ane got rather pale when I showed her my "work" the Monday after. Turns out the "scrap" was the box of the most expensive parts - so expensive that they even keep small pieces of a couple of centimeters length. Ane appraised my trebuchet to a couple of hundred Australian Dollars.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

La machine bleu

I have a new bicycle! (I always want to write bycicle, because this makes more sense to my phonetically challenged brain - I blame German) It's name is an allusion to the Green Machine , an ill-fated bike I bought in Canberra, from Toys'R Us of all places. Naturally enough, it was total crap - the left crank kept falling off, and then finally the front wheel warped for no apparent reason. Luckily I was able to get my money back (after much swearing, threatening bodily harm to salespeople and general carrying on).

Why a bike? I got sick and tired of taking the metro each day, especially when I had the strong suspicion that riding a bike would be faster - and I was right. Also, since the ticket for the metro costs 50 CHF per month, my purchase will amortize (did you know that amortize comes from the vulgar Latin admortire, to kill? One day I would like to learn Latin or old Greek, although I fear that is a very abstract wish which will prove as fleeting as the morning haze in the harsh light of the midday sun of required effort) in about 9 months. Provided, of course, that I don't buy other stuff for my bike, such as some sort of bags for my stuff, tyres with spikes for ice, etc.

It took me 20 minutes to go the EPFL, compared to about 35 minutes with the metro - and that was with me not too sure of the best way as well as not too sure of my new bike, leading to pansy behavior like breaking when going downhill (which happens now and then in Lausanne). I am sure I can cut that down to about 15 minutes in the morning. Going back is another story altogether, due to the sad fact that the EPFL lies considerably lower than my flat.

To the right of la machine bleu is my new little backpack (see what I said about accessoires above), bought about 2 days after the bike, to put my laptop in.

Both the bike and the backpack where already tested in rain, snow and combinations thereof. Yuck! Australia's weather is much more argreeable for biking!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Nasty Buggers

For today's blarticle I dug around in my photo-archives, and found yon image of a Possum.

Possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) are nasty little buggers.

Point in case, about 2 seconds after the above picture was taken, the nasty little bugger bit me in my finger. With extreme prejudice, I might add.

Also, when I was staying in Canberra last year, the bastards liked to sit right outside my window and... well, you have to hear it to believe it, so without further ado, the mating call of the nasty little bugger, or Common Brushtail Possum:

Link to file 'cause I can't upload files to Blogspot

They like to do this at about three in the morning, and can (and will!) keep it up until you decide to get up.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

PADEX and pumps

Again two posts in one day! But I couldn't contain myself, because after weeks of reading papers (over 60 so far), I finally get to muck around in the lab.

Voilà, below you can see PADEX (Pedagogical Apparatus to Disillusion Exited eXperimentalists), the plasma chamber I will be working with.

In the second photo are the pumps I will be using. The one below is a roughing pump, and on top sits a Roots pump (another kind of mechanical rotary pump). Together they should be able to get PADEX (Pathological Assembly of Deformed Edged Xylographs) down to about 10-6 bar. But right now poor PADEX (Parent Association for the Debate and Exploitation of X-Rated movies) is stuck at about 0.02 mbar - it seems there is a leak somewhere. This means tomorrow I will have to disassemble PADEX (Party Against Disassembling and Equal eXploits) - change all the fittings and hope for the best.

Or maybe I will get to use the leak-detector! This most exciting machine is more or less a mass spectrometer which searches for helium. You connect it to PADEX (People Against Diabolical Enjoinings of padeX), pump down and then spray a bit of helium near each seal. If there is a leak (at this particular joint, or else you were spraying around too much Helium - hint: It's not advisable to play "Mickey Mouse Voice" while searching for leaks), the mass spectrometer will detect, and hey presto! you have got your leak.

Anyway, that's enough about PADEX (Pathetic Acronyms Do Enhance eXhaustion), but more is sure to follow!

(Pisspoor Authors Do Eventually eXpire )


I recently was overcome with a sudden premonition that the security of the EPFL will cost me quite a bit of patience over the next few years. I have written before of the safety system for toxic gases. What I did not know at that point is that this system also monitors the ventilation of the labs. No ventilation, no toxic gases. I don't see the point in this - if there is no toxic spill, than a lack of ventilation will at most cause the air to go a bit stale, and if there is a toxic spill, than the a couple of dozen automatic valves close anyway.

And what, the reader might ask, hideously toxic gases are you crazy people using anyway? The list, I have to confess, is quite boring, only slightly toxic but a very real fire hazard:

Silane SiH4: mildly toxic, but quite pyrophoric
Oxygen O2: not toxic at normal pressures *grin*, but a good oxidizer
Hydrogen H2: When mixed with air (starting at 4% H2) or Oxygen: "Kaboom"

So no nerve agents, but if there is a Hydrogen leak, and then a Silane leak...

What the safety system unfortunately does allow is clueless security people to fool around. For example, testing fire alarms, blissfully unaware that in the event of a fire the ventilation is naturally shut down. No more toxic gases for this experiment! Now, due to a picket-fence war about the advisability of storing bicycles beneath staircases (Scientists: Nobody will steal them, plus they are out of the way! Security: They pose a fire hazard!) there is a certain animosity in the air anyway - and the shut-down alluded to above did not do much to clear the air (hah!), especially since the rather confused security took about an hour to restart the ventilation...

I can see that it is only a matter of time until we have to build a plasma gun and go to war with security. Regrettable, but necessary. At least then security will have a raison d'être.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Breaking news

A bonus-post for today:

Ducks Disregard No-Parking Zones!

Lausanne. In a shocking revelation, intrepid reporter Boris Legradic uncovered the intrinsic lawlessness of Lausanne's Duck-population. Without any regard for the numerous Yacht-owners, the duck featured in the photo blocked  the footbridge for hours. And it seems that this is not his first transgression.

"Aye, I've seen him sittin' here before" says Monsieur A. (75), a reliable witness of impeccable reputation. "It all started a couple years ago, with all them foreign ducks coming to our shores, false-parking and all!"

Is this really an immigration related phenomena, or are native Lausanoise ducks to blame as well? A quick survey of the yacht-club, conducted by this reporter, showed an appreciable number of ducks, with about one in ten foreign. But none of them were false-parking. Is this maybe one lone, vile criminal, flaunting the law in the face of Lausanne's overworked police? Or is this duck misunderstood, maybe bullied by it's peers, seeking refuge in the only place it has left - outside the law, in a no-parking zone?

When asked, the duck had no comment.


After looking at  all the good stuff you can do with Blogger in terms of layout, I decided to switch my blog to here. I'll just repost the 15 odd posts with (hopefully) their correct dates. 

Edit 1437h:
Horray, it worked. All the old blarticles are here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tea II

Inspired by my calculation of the average cost of a cup of tea, I went to the nice little tea shop théNtee (don't ask me about the N, nobody seems to want to talk about it) on the Ruelle Grand Pont, which has a very nice and helpful Chinese lady inside. The tea selection is not too big, but they do have Phoenix Pearl Jasmine tea, as well as Lung Ching green tea. If you know a bit about tea, then you know that I splurged a bit. I left the shop 46 CHF lighter, happy owner of 200g of Camellia sinensis. Ahhh, after three weeks of drinking infused grass clippings, a nice cup of tea will make your day.

Plus I learned something new: Apparently the little cloth-tea bags are not ideal for making green tea, because the pores are too small. You should use those metal sieve-thingies, or, even better, nothing at all. I bought one of those cloth-bags after all, because it will fit in my Thermos at the EPFL, where I can't just throw the tea in loose, because it might steep for hours.

The Chinese Adopt Private Property

Civilization Headline

"The Chinese adopt private property"

Tell me that this headline is not straight out of Sid Meier's Civilization! I am sure that the real reason the People's Party moved to protect private property was something like this:

Beijing, Office of the President of the People's Republic of China. A massive, modern executive desk dominates the room, It is empty except for a small Japanese sub-notebook, and an intercom. Behind the desk, a big, comfortable looking office chair. Behind the chair a framed portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong. A door opens to the left. Hu Jintao enters, with his back to the room, shouting.

Hu: I do not care! Dissidents, Schmissidents. Just shoot them or whatever! I am not to be disturbed!

Slams the door.

Hu: Fucking amateurs. Now, back to the capitalist swine. Death to all Americans!

Sits down at the laptop. The starting melody of Civilization I plays.

Hu: Ha, a few more turns, then I will have Gunpowder, and my Musketeers shall crush your puny Civilization!

Laptop: The Americans adopt the republic.

Hu: Big fat help that will be. I got Communism since turn 15. Hmmm, how to raise more money, I need a bit for my war chest.

Laptop: The Chinese adopt private property.

Hu: That helped. Look at the gold rushing in. Private property always fills my coffers, he he... ... ... Wait a moment.

Presses a button on the intercom. A buzzing sound is heard

Ming: Yes, President?

Hu: Ming, do we have private property in the People's Republic?

Ming (shocked): But of course not, Sir! Chairman Mao abolished it back in '53!

Hu: Well yes, yes. Times change, you know. I am sure he meant it as a temporary measure or something. We shall reinstitute it forthwith. Hop to it, Ming!

Turns back to his laptop

Hu: And now, Americans...

Sunday, March 18, 2007


I have regressed into tea-drinking once more. Probably because I am in Switzerland, although that doesn't make any sense. But then again, neither does the Chewbacca defense.

Currently I am drinking "Tea Time"TM green tea. That's the only green tea I could find in the local supermarket, and it tastes almost exactly like the magic potions you used to brew up as a kid, i.e. wet grass. Sometimes, when I get frisky, I drink some Earl Gray, but most of the time I limit my caffeine intake to three or four cups of coffee in the morning, and one or two in the afternoon. (I know, I know, green tea also contains caffeine, but it has only a sixth of an equivalent amount of coffee) The rest of the day I swill cup after cup of soaked grass clippings.

But not any longer, because I squirreled the location of a tea-shop of some repute out of Alan, our local Englishman. Soon I will go there and buy loads of expensive tea (Which isn't as expensive as you would think - if you pay 20 Euro (Yes, I still think in Euro, shame on me!) for 150g, then that is about a hundred tea bags. Tea of this quality can be brewed up at least four times (indeed, Chinese snob-tea-drinkers throw away the first infusion), so you have about a hundred liters of beverage, or 20 cents per liter. You'd be hard-pressed to find bottled water that cheap!

Come to think of it, I will probably splurge and buy some really good jasmine tea...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Vo Vietnam

I was in my first Vo-Vietnam lesson the other day...

Hold on. Why, the gentle reader may ask himself, does he always write 'the other day', and never yesterday, on Monday, etc.? The answer to that is that I am tricky, lazy and an inconsistent writer. My stated goal for this blog is to post once per day, every day. However, I am often too lazy to write something in the morning (or in the evening), either because I have not yet had my 4th cup of coffee, or my 3rd cup of tea (first coffee, then tea), or because the day was too strenuous, or too boring, or... And if I do sit down to write I cannot think of anything that would hold anybodies interest any amount of time anyway.

So what I do is if and when the muse strikes me, I tap out four or five blarticles, and save them in Blog/unused. And to insidiously hide this truth from you, I say, 'the other day' and not 16th of march, so that when you read this blarticle you will not immediately think "old news" and flee. This strategy is of course rendered ad absurdum, 'cause I have spilled the beans, but sic transit gloria mundi. (You have to imagine the barefooted monk - if you want, you can also burn a piece of flax for extra credit.)

To return to the other day, I was in my first Vo-Vietnam lesson from 1215h to 1345h. When I first saw that you could learn Vo-Vietnam in Lausanne, I was tickled pink over it. I am somewhat interested in Martial Arts, and did some Tae Kwon Do a couple of years back, some Judo even farther back, and some indifferent Hapkido and a smattering of Kung Fu in between then and now. And I had never even heard of Vo-Vietnam. So I went there (marvelous sport system here at the EPFL, you pay 50 CHF -gratuit pour les etudiants - and then you can visit as many courses as you want and have time for) and had a look. And the moves are really, really different from anything I have done so far. Also, I am horribly out of shape, fat, lazy, unsupple as a stick (a really old, rotten one), and to add insult to injury I seem to have lost what little coordinated I had. But it is a really awesome course, and I will be there twice a week, and I just might inscribe at the school proper, to go one evening per week as well.

So what is Vo Vietnam? Well, actually the name of the school, and of the style, is Ecole Son Long Quyen Thuat, with a couple of scratch marks and dots over the vowels, which I cannot render here. But because of PR it is called Vo-Vietnam, which means 'Jumping Grasshoppers of Korea'.

Kidding, kidding. Vo-Vietnam means the Art of War of Vietnam, and at higher levels there's also sticks, lances, swords and stuff. There is also an appropriately old founder (94 I believe) and a logo with a dragon, everything the prospective martial arts student needs.

Friday, March 16, 2007


For all my image-displaying needs I use Irfanview. This program is, IMHO, nothing short of amazing. Small and lightweight (~1MB), ultra fast to load, thumbnail option, slide show etc. You can also do your basic cropping, rotating and adjust colour. It auto-rotates your photos based on the EXIF-data. As of version 3.99 it also has the nice "Auto-adjust colors" function, which does such a good job at judging the white-balance that it would have burned on the stake a couple of centuries before. It wouldn't surprise me if there was some hidden option to make coffee...

No, I do not get any money for advertising this. Really, I don't.

Of course, sometimes your basic global adjustments are not enough, and that's where you see the limits of Irfanview: No layers, hell, only rectangular masks! But I generally don't bother with photos that need this much adjustment - that just means that I fucked up when shooting. If I do have to 'save' a shot then I use the GIMP , because it's powerful and infinitely cheaper the Photoshop and its cohorts.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tai Chi Chuan

The other day I had my first Tai Chi class.

I first came in contact with Tai Chi a couple of years back, when it turned out that one of the students in my Tae Kwon Do class had studied under Grandmaster Li Deyin, the trainer of the chinese national team. He offered to teach us, and some accepted, but silly me decided that it was too boring.

I have since come to regret that decision immensely, because not only have I come to appreciate the flowing movements of Tai Chi, most of them are also extremly effective self defence techniques, relying on minimal movements and shifting your center of mass instead of punches and kicks.

Anyway, now I will get up at 6 o'clock each Tuesday (and how's that for commitment?) and go and learn from master Chaibi. Who's not from Asia, but satisfies the stereotype of a martial arts master by being old and spry.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Gambrinus is a very important beer for technical students in Vienna, especially for those who study physics. It's also important for bums, but that is not the point of this - article? essay? blog-entry? Probably the latter, but 'blog-entry' is awfully unwieldy. Maybe there is some expression for this I have missed. If not, I would propose 'blarticle', which strikes me as particularly onomatopoeic. Furthermore, a quick Google Search shows only 1170 results - which means I am only the 734th person to think of this. So, to return from this little tangent, this blarticle is not about bums and their choice of beverage, but rather of students and theirs, and we shall disregard any surprising or unsurprising congruencies.

When encountering Gambrinus for the first time, maybe in the hand of a bum student in the subway station, or maybe on the shelves of one of the supermarkets in Vienna, the erudite beer drinker will immediately recollect Gambrinus , inofficial patron saint of beer. First mentioned by a German poet in the 16th century, he supposedly learned the art of beer brewing from Isis. Now Isis was pretty hot by all accounts, Nephtys (her sister) tried after all to disguise herself as Isis to seduce Set (although why anyone would try to seduce old snake-face remains a mystery to me). This did not work, but Osiris (Isis husband) promptly took her to bed, which is how Anubis was conceived. Isis then had to adopt Anubis, because Nephtys feared the wrath of Set, who, although derelict in his marital duties, was her husband from the beginning.

We can see why Isis knew how to brew beer, and she was nice enough to share that secret with Gambrinus. He, in turn, sorely needed a couple of pints, since being a legendary king of Flanders gives you a powerful thirst, which is compounded by the well-known fact that Flanders is powerfully dull.

Gambrinus is only sold in cans, which means there is no smashed glass at the end of the night, another plus. Also, it is the cheapest beer you can still drink without shuddering in distaste. And, as any student of technical physics in Vienna will be quick to point out, it has the important property of tasting the same, whether it is cold or luke-warm. This athermal behavior has been the subject of many a discussion at the students association of technical physics. The depreciatory (Another tangent: I had the hell of a time deciding whether to use depreciate or deprecate - indeed, before writing this blarticle I thought them the same word and spelled 'deprecrate'. Goes to show that you are never as smart as you think.) answer that the taste just cannot get any worse is, of course, beneath notice. Proponents of this asinity are invited to try and drink warm 'Schwechater' or 'Skol' - if they dare.

The Gambrinus can has had a couple of different incarnations: Originally sold in yellow cans, it had a brief intermezzo in white-green, and presents itself now with characteristic silver-green stripes.

I do not drink it anymore if I don't have to.

To come to the point of this blarticle (yes, there is one): Imagine my delight when during a recent visit to Sopron I found the house depicted below. It is the old town hall of Sopron, constructed in the 13th century. Clearly this is then the very first mention of Gambrinus, and it shows that the Hungarians where levelheaded enough, despite their funny language (or maybe because of it?), to brew beer in the town hall.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Scatological insight


Just last week it happened again. A problem I had been worrying at for hours like some demented, half-starved and feral dog was solved by a sudden flash of insight - while I was taking a crap. Really, some of my best ideas came to me when sitting on the loo. I don't know what it is with toilets and me, but somehow loosening bowel-movements seem to inspire spurts of brilliance - or at least something that can be mistaken for brilliance in a blizzard. In the dark. If you don't look too closely.

I blame it on the scatological fixation I don't have, which results in my thoughts being able to free themselves from earthly constraints, since they are not occupied with phant'sying about the ongoing secretional operation. Or else I am brilliant all the time, and only think my brilliance somehow correlated with the act of excreting, because that tends to stick (ha!) in mind.

Anyhow, I am sure we would think of Archimedes differently if he had shouted his heureka while not only running naked through the streets of Athens, but also...

That is probably what happened really, come to think about it, and Archimedes only later managed to convince everybody that he actually was taking a bath and had not hopped out of his toga to take a dump.

"Seriously guys, I was bathing!"

Sure, Archimedes.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hungarian is funny

Yesterday I was browsing through some photos I took when I was in Sopron, Hungary. There I found the little gem below. I am sorry, Hungarians, but your language is funny. Not as funny as finnish maybe, but still funny. But that's okay, better to have ones language thought of as funny than as ugly (I am looking at you, Willy Rushton!), as German often is. Or Czech. Which is not to say that I dislike the Czech or their language (I even tried to learn Czech once, but then the girl wasn't as interested as I), but try to say 'Put your finger through your neck' in Czech.

Strc prst skrz krk.


Sunday, March 11, 2007


I was just reading The Influence of Discharge Chamber Structure Upon the Initiating Mechanism of the High Frequency Discharge by Sherwood Githens Jr., a Physical Review letter from 1940, when I came upon the delightful word preponderant, apparently a synonym for predominant. I think it is the first time I ever read that word, which is decidedly under used. However, a quick Google search furnished me with over 1.2 million hits for "preponderant", meaning that I have just been ignorant.

Many more obscure words can be found here

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My office from above

'Tis my office, at the CRPP in Lausanne. Right besides me is a TOKAMAK fusion research reactor, but it is undergoing maintenance work until 2008, which means my own plasma reactor (for plasma processing, not fusion, alas!) is much cooler, so there!

See more of the scenery at Google Maps .

Bureaucracy, swiss style

Austria (my country of origin) is not known for its swift and efficient bureaucracy. Nevertheless France managed to surprise me in 2005, during my ERASMUS-year (i.e. studying abroad). I must have used about eight or nine passport photos (is that how you say it in english? Passphoto/photo de passport), and I am sure an entire forest was chopped down to produce the reams of paper for all the forms that had to be submitted in triplicate. Since I was not clapped into prison for wrongly filling in form 2354/a in subsection c, I thought that I was sufficiently prepared for the swiss equivalents.

Swiss bureaucracy is a curious animal. The swiss are known to be hyper-efficient, and their diverse departments do not disappoint. On the other hand they seem to love labyrinthine conundrums, and getting all the permits you need to get some other permit can get you into some kind of vicious circle, like needing a permit the sejour (i.e. residence permit) for your bank account, which in turn is a requisite for your work contract, which you have to have for your bail a loyer - an try to get that without a permit de sejour!

But today I finally managed to apply for a permit de sejour at the controle des habitants (i.e. immigration) - though I have to wonder at the need to know my mothers maiden name, reminds me a bit on traveling through Yugoslavia when I was little. Now I will soon be able to get a mobile, because apparently you need a residence permit for that - can't have those aliens carrying our mobile phones out of the country!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Toxic gases

Handling of toxic gases at the EPFL is exemplary. And by exemplary I mean that it is nigh impossible to have a toxic gas spill without having alarms and automatic shutdowns going off well before that, to the amusement of all the other people doing experiments in the lab who generally rejoice in having their gas flow cut.
This is of course the point in having safety - preventing gas spills, that is, not pissing off your colleagues. But that doesn`t mean that I can`t bitch and moan about the time needed to actually get the system to release the gases to my plasma reactor - about 10 minutes, though I probably will get a bit faster once I know the check-list by heart.
For your edification, gentle reader, a picture of some valves controlling the case flow - not all of them by far, I count about 10 manual and 3 automatic valves between the goodness that is Silane or Hydrogen and the reactor.

Why I love the EPFL

The perks for working at the EPFL, viz. the tea-kitchen. Note the different diameters of the pipes... Nobody likes Leffe.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Welcome to my house

Come freely. Go safely. And leave some of the happiness you bring!

Illuminated by a 40 Watt bulb (higher wattage fries the lamp), this 24 m2 palace will be my abode until Charlotte and I can find something else. Anything else.


Ever since I am the proud owner of a canon 300D SLR, my next planned purchase has been a ultra-wide angle lens. Not anymore, since I have discovered the goodness that is autostitch. Now I just snap pictures with my old 18-35mm lens, and autostitch assembles them automagically... And I can use my money for other, better things - such as a tele-zoom (drool).


Arrived in Lausanne on March first, in the morning. And this is where I will live the next three months...