Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This Potter guy

I finally read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Through some strange quirk of space-time I had been able to avoid all spoilers (except that HP lives and old Voldy-wart dies, hardly a surprise), so the suspense was there. Kind of.

I think good Mrs. Rowling should stick to children's books. Deathly Hallows was a succession of disjunct scenes somehow strung together, with a Deus Ex Machina thrown in every chapter or so. A nice read if you are bored, but hardly something I will read again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Since most all the photos from my blog are made by yours truly, it is not often that you get to see me. So here are three photos from last weekend. In all of them I am wearing my all-terrain bad weather and hiking hat, which I bought in the most touristy shop of the southern hemisphere, in downtown Sydney.

First Photo:
Talking to Thistles.

Second Photo:
Dude, Dog and Dad.

Third Photo:
Crazy Contortions Create Cool Captures

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Amanita muscaria

or fly agaric, in German Fliegenpilz.

A potent hallucinogenic, but since the toxic content can vary by about an order of magnitude also a hazardous one.

Personally I am not into hallucinogenics - my natural crazy usually suffices. So despite appearances, I did not take a bite out of this one.

I always thought that it was called fly agaric because of the white spots, but it turns out that when soaked in milk said milk will attract and kill flies. It might also attract and kill hippies, which would be a shame because their numbers have been steadily declining since the late sixties.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ressurrection of one old ipod mini

My little sister had an old iPod mini, whose battery was thoroughly dead. (That's the deceiving little blue bastard on the right. It doesn't look dead, but it is. trust me.)

So I ordered a replacement battery, (packaging to the left) and installed it following these nice instructions.

It worked like a charm, but then I updated the firmware, 'cause iTunes told me to. Unfortunately, 1st generation iPod minis require a wall charger to finish the firmware flash. Don't ask me why. The iPod just showed me a friendly icon of the wall charger I don't have, and giggled sillily. Well, okay, it didn't (giggle, that is). I just wanted an excuse to use the adverb sillily. Which Blogger doesn't seem to recognize, even though the authority on all things English does:

Saith the Webster's 1913 dictionary:
[From Silly.]
In a silly manner; foolishly. Dryden.

Anyway, luckily there are the internets, more precisely this post from the bearisdriving blog, that showed me that the workaround is as simple as wiggling the usb connector so that the ground and +5V pins are connected and the two data pins (they are a mite shorter) are not. Easy. I should have thought of that, but didn't.

Now everything finally works, and I will have sweet music on my bike again!

More gorge

A couple more pictures from the Gorge du Chauderon, near Montreux.

On the left my first try with b/w photography. I am not too sure if the blur helps or not...

To the right the mossy steps leading up to heaven. Mossy because, well, you know, not much in use anymore...

Sunday, August 26, 2007


My parents are currently visiting, and this weekend we went up from Mont-la-Ville to the Col du Mollendruz and Châtel; near the Lac de Joux. A nice, easy walk for your average ancient progenitors ;)

I like using my macro-lens, to the right a bumblebee on a thistle.

Feeding time...

clockwise: Laura, my dad and my mother.

No, you have to start on the top left.

View from the top of Châtel. You can see Lausanne and the Lake Geneva in the distance.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Château de Chillon

There are seven pillars of Gothic mould,
In Chillon's dungeons deep and old,
There are seven columns massy and grey,
Dim with a dull imprison'd ray...

Lord Byron, The Prisoner of Chillon

Visited Chillon on Sunday. Very impressive castle on the shore of Lake Geneva. Lord Byron seems to have been impressed as well, when he visited it together with Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1816.

Unfortunately I did not manage to take a single good picture. I don't know why, but everything I did is either underexposed, overexposed, blurry or just plain crap.
You will have to be content with the chimney as seen from the Donjon, it was, honestly, the best I could do.

At least it wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as I will definitely visit Chillon again, because I have to show it to my girlfriend. (The dungeon is especially romantic, as is the crypt ;)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Gorge du Chauderon

My big sister and her two kids are visiting, and on Saturday we went for a walk up the Gorge du Chauderon and then on to Sonloup. All in all about 6 hours of (slow) walking, very nice. The weather was cloudy, which was okay for walking but not so good for snapping amazing pictures of waterfalls and sunlight filtering through the forest...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Always bring your camera

This is the most important thing for an amateur photographer: Always bring your camera. (The proffesionel of course has at least two with him - he doesn't need to be told)

Which is why I left mine at home yesterday evening, when I went on a stroll around the lake with my big sister and her two kids, who are visiting at the moment. I left it at home because it was nearly dark, and cloudy and I knew there wouldn't be any photos worth shooting anyway.

Down at the lake, we saw the most disgustingly spectacular sunset I have ever seen in my life. Luckily for me, my sister is not half as much the fool as I (it doesn't seem to run in the family), so she had her Minolta Z2 with her. Without much further ado (click on the photos for bigger versions):

Too kitschy to be real. I suspect either terrorists, aliens, kindergarten-teachers or a combination thereof.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I am finally back to doing experiments, after three days of looking through emails, citation alerts and whatnot.

Of course, the first experiment neatly destroyed a vague pet-theory of mine - tomorrow I will obliterate the remaining pieces with another one.

But it makes a pretty picture, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mobile Phone Madness

It is my own fault of course.

It is entirely reasonable for my cell phone provider to deny me calling abroad or - heaven forfend! - use roaming in the first three months of my contract. They could actually earn money with me! Likewise, automatically debiting from my bank-account smacks also of unethical behavior - not only would it save them money and myself hassle, no, it could also ... you know ... something. Bad.

Anyway, my three months probationary period is up, so I went into the shop yesterday to have them activate my account. This procedure consists of the saleslady calling the provider, being placed on hold, complaining to me about it, waiting, waiting some more, and so on and so forth, until the poor girl gave up and gave me a number which, so she claimed, would do the very thing for me (Then I thought she meant unlocking - now, I know better).

Two hours later I tried to call, and got the nice, tri-lingual message that my account was suspended, which nicely solved the roaming problem for me. The message also told me to call customer support, which, you know, I couldn't, on account of having a suspended account.

Well, I thought, I'll just do it from the lab tomorrow.
The service number is some kind of weird 0900-number, costs one swiss franc per call. Only university phones cannot call those kind of numbers, probably because sex-hotlines use them too. Skype can't either.

After a few bellows of frustration a kind soul (merci Philip!) lent me his mobile, mostly to shut me up I think. A few hours of on-hold-music-that-sucks-down-your-soul-into-limbo later, I got a puzzled guy on the line who explained to me that he didn't know either why my account was suspended, but that he would kind of like to un-suspend it. After some reflection I calmly told him that I was not disinclined to share his point of view, after which he naturally put me on hold.

Soon afterwards (I only just had time to calculate that given a spherical emitter emitting gigahertz radiation near my ear with about 200mW of power since the beginning of the call, an absorption coefficient of about 60% for salty water and the average weight of an eyeball (6g), my left eye had absorbed an energy of about 40 joules, enough to heat it up about one degree centigrade. No worries, yet.) somebody completely different told me that my ID was wrong. That wasn't any news for me - my id continuously fucks up, just see my post yesterday. Also, I don't hold much with Freud. I tried to explain this to the guy on the phone, but for some reason this threw him completely for a loop - he probably was an Adlerian. After some confusion we managed to come to a compromise, which consisted of me faxing them my permit de sejour.

An hour later my phone worked again.

I still can't call anyone abroad.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Deeds done during driving

I might be a bad driver.

This is, of course, by no means a certain conclusion - rather a tentative hypothesis which builds upon circumstantial evidence. I got my driving license a looong time ago, scoring 84% on the theoretical test - which I took at the time as an indication of having invested 4% too much time in learning for the stupid thing. I rather envied my friend Czacky, who managed to score an impressive 81%. In the intervening years I did not drive very much, owning to the lack of a car, although I did take the occasional jaunt in cars lent to me by unsuspecting and/or naive persons.

By the way, there are few things more humiliating than dropping the keys of your brand-new girlfriend's father's car in the Mediterranean, on a Sunday. And then having to phone for help. Try to avoid it if you can.

When I took my girlfriend (still the same as above) to a small island in Croatia (incidentally also the one mentioned above) I couldn't help but notice something that had been nagging me for some time - the way people tend to grip all available handholds when I drive. Also, I am pretty sure the swallowing-frequency of my sweetheart was elevated, but again I can offer no hard data, because she asked me to "please pay attention to the road" in that sweet voice of hers, thereby interrupting my data-gathering. Anyway, the symptoms she exhibited might conceivably be interpreted as nervousness, a conclusion supported by the "rubber-leg-syndrome" that was observable when we came to a screeching halt in Veli Losinj. Although those may also be caused by my rather sexy appearance.

This episode kind of reminded me of an incident a few years back, on that selfsame fated island. I was driving, with my older sister (pale) riding shotgun and her two kids (screeching with either terror or delight) in the back. When leaving the ferry, some guy with a caravan knocked off our wing mirror without noticing.
After debating the incident with some of the ferry crew for about 15 minutes, I decided that we just had to catch the scoundrel and make hime face his crimes. This was rather simplified that the islands in question (Cres and Losinj, joined by a small bridge) only have one major road. So I set off in hot pursuit, which both intensified the paleness of my sister and the screeching of my nephews. Back then I was sure she was pale because of the potential financial loss in repairing the wing mirror, but now I am not too sure. (We actually caught up with the perpetrators, who paid for the damage - yay me!) Anyway, later on my sister exhibited the same "rubber-leg-syndrome". But then, a sample-size of two is hardly conclusive, it could all be coincidence.

Well, last week I had my first accident. To add insult to injury, it is probably also all my fault, at least de jure. De facto, it is all the fault of that stupid swiss guy from Biel. Yes, I am talking to you, BL 8088.
I was happily driving along the E15 near Lyon, France, when the idiot mentioned above suddenly decided that he did not want to take the exit after all. No worries, he thought, I will just yank on my steering wheel as hard as I can, and with the help of the almighty manage to get back on the highway before smashing into the dividing barrier ahead.
His prayer was heard, but myself as a stupid atheist had suddenly a car going about 40km/h slower than myself right in front of me. Well, according to a French officer I talked to over the phone later (I managed it! In French! I am such a polygnome!), what I should have done jump on the breaks and trust in the gods of rubber, asphalt and deceleration to see me through. Instead, being an atheist and (maybe) a bad driver, I swerved.
Now, swerving on the highway (or any other street, for that matter) is always a bit tricky, especially if you don't take the time to look into your mirrors. Because there might be other, innocent cars beside you. In my case there was a brand-new Mercedes CLK.
Bumping into another car at 130km/h is quite a rush, about the equivalent of three or four cups of double espresso. Fortunately for me, the Mercedes and all the cars behind us, we both managed to keep control of our cars, decelerate to the emergency lane and proceed with the hand-waving and filling out of forms. The asshole from Biel did not stop.

Fortunately, the damage to both the Mercedes and my Colt was surprisingly slight. (see photo)

Things I learned from this incident:

*) Don't trust somebody from Biel.
*) Break, don't swerve.
*) Don't leave home without your insurance number (sigh).
*) Mitsubishis are sturdier than Mercedes. (A good thing, since my insurance only covers the damages to the second party, not my own)


*) I might be a bad driver.

Actually, I am looking into doing one of those driving-safety-courses, where you get to slither over soap water with your car to teach you better handling in emergencies.

And maybe there is also a stunt-car course?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back in black

...or at least slightly broncé. Yes, I did get some sun, and let me tell you, catching you UV-rays in front of your plasma-reactor is just not the same as lying on the beach with your girlfriend. Surprise, huh?

Some pictures and stories to follow, especially about my accident, Croatia, Vo-Vietnam and more.

Stay tuned!