Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

View from my balcony

I am now the proud owner of a bathroom, a kitchen and an empty room - and a balcony! Here is a view from my balcony. As you can guess, I just got the keys for my new apartment and am excited - next week is IKEA-time! Or the week after, when my girlfriend has finished her exam.

Although dragging stuff up to the fifth floor will be a hassle (there is a lift, but it is too small to fit in a couch), the balcony makes up for it. Mustn't forget the balcony. Pierre le lierre (an ivy) and Chloë la Chlorophytum (she insists on her full name, Chlorophytum comosum with strangers) will get plenty of friends.

Also, you can see a small piece of Lac Leman from my balcony (on the right)!

Awesome, innit?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Seeking shade

It's been hot the last couple of days, with frequent thunderstorms and rain showers.

By the way, I think the French word for thunderstorm - orage - is much more onomatopoeic than the English one, or even the German one (i.e. Gewitter). Doesn't "orage" make you just see the rolling clouds?

The thunderstorm on Monday evening was violent enough to knock out the ventilation and the GRCs (Gas Reaction Columns - those sit behind the experiments and burn the toxic gases before venting them to the atmosphere) in the lab. Which was bad, because the GRCs like to be kept at their operating temperature (around 550 Centigrade), and react badly to cooling down. One of them promptly died, and now poor Marina (she of the probe-killer fame) can't do any experiments. Poetic justice, I would say, but I don't, because I am a nice guy. Heh.

The sheep of the EPFL have been surrounding the CRPP lately - I remain to be convinced of their benevolent intentions - but in the midday sun they are seeking whatever shade they can get.

I thought I had written about them before, but a cursory check right now told me I haven't. So here is the deal: The EPFL is full of sheep. Other than the students, I mean. Of the four-legged, not-drunk variety. Ostensibly they are there to keep the grass down, but I have my suspicions. Their ring around the CRPP has been drawing closer each day, and nobody except me seems to notice their belligerent expressions. Their cold eyes stare at me when I ride my bike to the CRPP in the morning, and in the evening I can feel them eying my back. Sometimes, I think they talk to each other, but when I draw near they just say "bahh".

My girlfriend thinks they are cute and wants to come on the weekend and pet them. I can't shake the feeling they are counting on this...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Swan Vista Matchboxes

I just had a look via which keywords people were finding my blog. For example, there was this guy (or girl?) from Inverness, Scotland that found it by typing "swan vista matchboxes" into Google. I think this is an ingenious search term, and will provide another picture of a swan - I unfortunately do not have a new one of my matchbox. I don't know about Vista, I am still using XP and have no intention to switch at this time.

Somebody from Microsoft in Redmond, USA found my blog quite naturally via the term "breast enhancement" . I hope he or she wasn't disappointed...


I have a new apartment! It's pretty cool, I think. Quite cheap, near the center and the train-station, with a small balcony for breakfast.

Details to follow in a couple of days.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ode to a pressure window

O ephemerality of earthly things!

Seconds ago you withstood pressure,
About 70 kilograms worth.
Now see your face, criss-crossed with fissure,
Broken and useless you lie on the earth.

Awed and amaz'd, I gazed through you before,
Feasting my eyes on that you contained,
Now, broken, I don't need you no more,
Usefulness lost is disregard gained.

Your job was to hold
Nothing inside,
Instead you made bold,
Slipped, and died.

Now you can't hold,
anything anymore,
I'd call lie if you told
Me that you are not sore.

Sorry or not,
I don't really care
I unfeeling sot
will just get a spare.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The long dark silence...

on this blog is to blame on two things: Ascension, the residential market in Lausanne, and me.


Nobody said physicists can count. You know that c/π ~ 108m/s, don't you?

Anyway, I spent the last week fretting about my future domicile, because my current contract expires on June 1st. And it is extremely difficult to find an apartment in Lausanne that fits all the criteria, viz. near the train-station, affordable and 1.5 or 2 rooms. I also tried to contact my current landlady, to ask her if I could have my current flat one or two months longer, but she did not answer her phone the last two weeks. This resulted in myself getting antsier than an anthill - visions of myself and bridges seen from below floated continuously before my eyes.

To make a long story short: The landlady came back from her holiday today, and I can stay in the flat for one or two months more, which is quite a relief.

Photo: Bird at Lake Griffin, Canberra. Also homeless.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More reading

A couple of years back I stumbled over the website of a guy called Fel, who had written some fantasy books and was giving them away for free.

The best thing is, he continued writing and continues still, only now there are 8 finished novels on his site, with the ninth drawing to a close fast.

Seven of those books are fantasy, and take place in the world of Sennadar. We follow the adventures of Tarrin Kael, an adolescent growing up on a secluded farm in a more or less medieval society. His one ambition is becoming a Knight - but all his plans come to naught when a visiting sorceress discovers that he can use magic...

The books are extremely well written - why Fel has never tried to publish them boggles my mind. The only nitpick I have is that Fel tends to over-describe things in the later books, which doesn't deter me from giving him 4.5 of 5 brightly burning hollow cathodes.

The eight completed novel is science fiction, and called Subjugation. A blue, humanoid alien race called the Fay conquers earth - resistance is futile since they are telepathic, and how can you resist when you cannot even think about it? No one can, until one Jason Fox discovers that sometimes the Fay cannot "hear"his thoughts...

A bit more frivolous than the Firestaff-novels mentioned above, it is nevertheless a very fun read.

Head over to Sennadar, and start reading!

The photo above is of the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia.

Friday, May 11, 2007


I like to cook.

It all started with the only reason any bacherlor starts to cook - I wanted to impress that girl I was after. Kind of like - oh look, not only am I a nerd (all physicists are nerds per definition. No way out of it.), I also cook! Also, there is the German saying of "Liebe geht durch den Magen" (i.e. Love goes through the stomach), which is either a pretty blatant hint at fellatio or alludes to the fact that if you feed enough to the female of your dreams, she won't be able to run away anymore. Combinations of those two meanings are possible and likely (if maybe icky).

Anyway, I took up cooking, and got hooked on Chinese cuisine. It's impressive, very easy (just throw everything in the wok in the right order), and I like the taste.

By the way, if you have any other means of ensnaring your future girlfriend (or boyfriend, I guess it also works the other way), don't mention you can cook. It's some kind of mental stare-down, and the first who blinks (and cooks) gets stuck with it for the rest of the relationship. Not that I am complaining. Only saying. Stop hitting me, dear.

Just last week I finally bought a Teflon-coated pan, and I am still kicking myself in the ar..shin for not doing that earlier, 'cause it saves about a gazillion minutes a week washing up. And here I present not only the fruits of about 15 minutes labor in the kitchen (did I mention that cooking Chinese, at least the easy things, is fast?), but also one of the very first pictures I took with the camera of my new mobile. Which is why it is crappy and blurred.

Teflon, or Polytetraflouroethylene starts to degrade at about 240 Centigrade. This isn't a problem in normal cooking, since oil starts to smoke at 200°C this is not normally a problem, but don't leave your anti-sticky pan empty over the fire for too long.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Destroying Stuff

I have expounded before on the joys of melting aluminum, destroying things and generally causing mayhem, which is what my PhD is really all about. Well, the other day I succeeded the first time in the destroying something, mainly ...

... TWO pieces of aluminum foil. Take that, oh capitalistic-industrial complex!

Everybody has to start small. But I am pretty happy, because my experiments have shown that it is viable to melt aluminum via a hollow cathode discharge - now I can refine my parameters and then proceed to (hopefully) melting thicker pieces.

The picture above shows, well, something that happens when the aluminum melts. It looks like a flame, but it is something else, since there is no oxygen in the environment. Most curious...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Even more plasma goodness

As promised, here is some more pictures of plasmas. The first is a pure Argon plasma, with a Hollow Cathode discharge in the middle.

Opening the needle valve a bit, we get a mixture of air and Argon, so the plasma turns reddish

The last picture is almost pure air, and a deep, glowing red.

I am afraid that there won't be any cool plasma pictures for a couple of days, because a collegue of mine destroyed the 100:1 voltage probe that measures the RF peak to peak voltage in my experiment. She picked up my oscilloscope without bothering to check if something was connected. I am still trying to decide whether to laugh it off or to stuff the dead probe down her neck with extreme prejudice. Not only do I have to order a new probe, but I probably will have to disassemble PADEX completely to install it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Darkside - Review

I like to read. Always have - if I do not read at least a couple of books worth a week, I am generally unhappy. Supporting that habit through buying books would be ruinous (but think of the library I would assemble) not to mention I have nowhere to put them. Thankfully, there is the magic that is the internet, where you can find people who, for whatever reason, give away their books for free (And more power to them!).

Starting with this post I will review some of them.

Darkside, by S. K. S. Perry

Imagine someone shoots you. Straight through your heart. You are a bit shocked, not to mention pissed. Because before you can get your hands around the scruffy neck of the sucker who (kind of) killed you, he has made a tactical retreat. And the girl whom you wanted to rescue fainted, so you cannot pursue. Life sucks, just like your chest-wound...

So you are dead. No big deal, it seems, at least for you. But then, suddenly, you start to notice things. Beings. Werewolves. Trolls. Ogres. Vampires. And then you get roped into this quest...

I liked Darkside. The premise is funny and interesting, even if the parallel (under) world has been done before. It is easy to get the confusion of the dead protagonist, and to feel with him when unlife throws another curve-ball at him. Action-scenes are fast-paced and well-written.

My only gripe is that the protagonist seems to accept things a bit too easily - I would have expected a bit more doubts, angst, panic or, well, emotion about the fact that you find yourself dead and conversing with ghosts and the faery. But it still gets four out of five plasmoids from me, so go there and read it!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

No post last Thursday and Saturday, my excuse is that I was too busy looking at spectra. I fitted a needle valve to PADEX and had fun bleeding a bit of air into the plasma and watching it get cherry-red - photos to follow.

The reason for doing this is to compare the contaminated plasma with my (hopefully) pure argon plasma (on the left-hand side) - if there are lines that don't match, then my argon plasma is indeed pure.

Also, my ATM card stopped working. Again. I showed up at my bank, eyes blazing with righteous wrath, ready to kick ass and take names. I deliberately spoke English, so the poor girl at the bank had to struggle. I did not even smile once. With me glowering and her scrambling at her computer, she finally found out what the problem is. Seems that with a new account you get to spend only 300 CHF a month via your ATM card in shops. Don't ask me why. Evidently the swiss only use cash. Or some secret cheese-currency.

Anyway, she raised the stupid limit (why couldn't they do that in the first place?), so this particular pain in the posterior should be over.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

More about filters

I apologize for the sudden stop in yesterday's post - I had some stuff to do once I realized that PLASUS was lying all along.

Of course, PLASUS was not lying, it was my fault all along. But then you guessed that, didn't you? Turns out that the resolution of the spectrometer I was using wasn't too great, and I did not input a confidence interval into PLASUS properly, so it did not look at the right wavelengths for the peaks.

Anyway, all that this means is that I get to play with a better spectrometer, yay me! Which brings me to the reason for yesterdays post - why it is so much fun to play with the refraction filter. You see, not only is it neat in and of itself, but it also costs about 15000 Euro. Pretty good for a device the size of your palm, innit?

You get the best toys as a physicist.

Also, a random picture from Australia.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Refraction filter

I was playing around with a refraction filter all day. It has a bandwidth of only ten nanometers - I think I should speak of band-narrow here, but thats me - and you can adjust it from 400 to 720 nanometers.

Together with a spectrometer you can, say, look at an Argon line and see where in the plasma Argon atoms get excited. Or you can't, because the really strong neutral argon lines are at

well, fuck.

I just realized that the spectra-analyser software was lying to me. It told me that my line at 763 nanometers was an Iron/Chromium line, but there is also an Argon I line right smack at 763.51 nanometers, and the damn traitor PLASUS never let on! Thank god for the ASD (Atomic Spectra Database). Excuse me while I go and redo all my analysis.