Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My precious

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

(One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the Darkness bind them.)

Well, okay. It's Tetrafluoromethane-plasma. Still cool, though.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's in a name?

For the longest time I have thought that my first name (Boris) is derived from the Slavic god Bor, a god of war. I don't even know where I got this information from - but I remember telling that to other children in kindergarten before punching them in the face.

The other day a sudden fancy pushed me to seek more information about my divine namesake. Imagine my surprise when I found out that dear old Bor does not exist! There is a nordic god named Borr, or Bor or Bur (the vikings weren't too wild on orthography) but he is not a god of war. Indeed, he is not a god of anything, because he gets only a couple of lines in the Edda:

[Búri] gat son þann er Borr er nefndr. Hann fekk þeirar konu er Bestla er nefnd, dóttir Bölþorns jötuns, ok gátu þau þrjá sonu. Hét einn Óðinn, annarr Vili, þriði Vé.

[Búri] begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé.

Hmpf. Curse you, Snorri!
Well at least Borr was the father of Odin, that's at least something. Anyway, further judicious use of Google revealed to me the etymology of my name is unclear.

There are a couple of possibilities:

  • The real Progenitor of my proud name was Boris the I. of Bulgaria (852-889), also called Bogoris. He introduced Christianity to Bulgaria, shopping around for the best conditions in Rome and Byzantium. After switching sides for a couple of times he settled on the orthodox church, because they granted him the right to autocephaly, i.e. self-government, meaning that the patriarch of the Bulgarian church recognizes no higher authority, while still being part of the eastern orthodox church.

    Eventually Boris I. abdicated in favour of his son, and became a monk. However, when his son became apostate, Boris took a brief sabbatical to smite and blind him, and give the realm to his next-eldest, not without mildly admonishing him to stay in the arms of the church, or else.

    Boris returned to his monastery, only briefly sojourning from it one last time to smite some uppity Magyars that had invaded Bulgaria.

    During his reign he also oversaw the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet by disciples of saint Cyril. (The Cyrillic alphabet is a derivation of the alphabet invented by saint Cyril himself, called the Glagolithic alphabet because, being a saint, Cyril was too modest to name it after himself, leaving his disciples to rectify that oversight)

    Seeing that good Boris I. was a proto-Bulgar, and therefore of Turkic origin, the name Boris probably meant Wolf originally. Or short. Or bars, depending on your interpretation and the state of intoxication of your local proto-Bulgar expert.

  • Another interpretation of the meaning of Boris a derivation of the ancient Slavic boron, "to fight" or "glory", meaning also "to become famous in battle". However, this site refutes this interpretation. Which is in turn contested in the comments.

  • A third possibility is a link with one of the the Greek Άνεμοι (Anemoi - wind gods) Boreas, whose name meant "north wind" or "the one who devours". He also was quite the proponent of bestiality, fathering 12 colts to the mares of Erichthonius, king of Troy, by taking the form of a stallion. Later on Boreas rethought the whole offspring thing, and kidnapped the maid Oreithyia, an Athenian princess, and fathered two sons and two daughters.

Well, I am confused. Shall I name myself Boris, devourer of wolves? Short wolf who sits in bars? Sodomistic north wind? Glory of the mares?

Sod it. I'll just lie and tell everyone I am Boris, god of war. It worked in kindergarten, after all.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Toxic plasma

It's been some time since I have posted a plasma picture, so here are some hollow cathodes burning in hydrogen. Yes, it is true, I have finally graduated to toxic gases (at least in the context of safety, hydrogen is considered toxic because, well, boom.), meaning I get to fight with automatic safety systems and valves and detectors each time I want to do an experiment.

At least I can now say "Oh, I work with toxic plasma" when somebody asks me what I am working on.

Unfortunately, hydrogen plasma is very similar in colour to argon plasma. It is quite different in behavior of course (even in this photo you can see that it is much more contained than argon plasma. This is because of differences in the mean free path of electrons). I would love to do some oxygen at some point, because that would be blue, but it is even more of a pain in the ass to use oxygen right after you have used hydrogen ore vice versa. Because, well, double-boom.

Also I am a bit sick and tired of taking pictures of plasmas. It's fun, but I still have no idea what's really going on physically speaking. I want to start measuring, but what? I am afraid the first thing will be optical spectroscopy again - a real pain in the ass. Well, at least I know more about it now...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I really could go fer some sea an' sunshine right now. Jus' t' cure me curs'd cold, o' course. An' on accoun' o' 't being a shame t' sit in a landlocked country on "Talk like a pirate"-day! I be guessing goin' down t' Lac Leman might help, but th' godfersaken' lily-livered sweet-water scallywags down there be turning me beard gray wi' their incessant natterin'! Arr, 't jus' ain't th' same...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Funny bone

Recently (this is to be taken none too strict, it was before the flu from hell even) my funny bone decided that being funny once in a while wasn't enough for him anymore, no sir! He wanted to be hilarious all the time. All my pleading with the little bastard lead to nothing, he had to go and be a stand-up comedian. Well, I won't cry if somebody shoots him down.

The funny bone is on your elbow, where your ulnar nerve is exposed. If you are unlucky (or fighting a vicious and extremely skilled martial arts master) the bone might get hit, resulting in your hopping around comically, waving your hand in the air. Now imagine feeling that continuously.

Horrible, isn't it? Thank his Noodliness I don't feel that. Still, my ring and little finger have been asleep for weeks now, and those lazy bastards (and their associate, the bloody ulnar [which is an excellent viking name if you need one]) start to get on my (other) nerves. I am currently eating anti-inflammatory drugs in the hope of somehow waking them up, since the funny, sorry hilarious bone obviously isn't doing it.

I think I am getting old.

Monday, September 17, 2007


No posts over the weekend despite my promise - what can I say, I lied. Also, I was still sicker than I thought.

Today is a public holiday here in Switzerland (something I of course only found out after getting up at half past six), so I am still home twiddling my thumbs.

But here is a picture of one zeppelin that nearly crashed into my roof on Saturday (the black strip on the right is the roof over my balcony). Seriously, the thing only cleared the top by about 10 or 15 meters. I guess the guy in there was a getting a bit frantic, at least he kept the burner going continuously...

Friday, September 14, 2007

I live... again!

Well, that was a nasty flu, thank you very much. From Saturday to Tuesday I was lying around in a fever-haze. When I measured 39.3 centigrade Tuesday night, I decided that a visit to the doctor might be in order. You can safely deduce from this that my girlfriend is still in India, because she would have sent me to get medical help Monday morning at the latest. Well, such are the privileges of men.

Anyway, the doctor told me that my flu got infected or something (My French was close to nonexistent at this point), and gave me about a kilogram of antibiotics, nice anti-fever and anti-pain and anti-soreness drugs and gargle-thingies and tablets and stuff, and today I am well enough to type, yipee! Unfortunately not well enough to hop over to Paris as I wanted to, so instead I will be moping around in Lausanne. Therefore there will be weekend-posts this weekend.

By the way, if you really want to loose weight, I can recommend my kind of deathly infected mutant flu. Here is a complete list of what I ate from Friday evening to Wednesday evening:

*) two small baguette, à 100g
*) a pack of zwieback, 120g
*) two bowls of muesli, ca 100g.
*) one cup of cottage cheese

Not bad for five days, eh?

Monday, September 10, 2007


I am sick as a dog. Regular service will continue when I feel better.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Bikelight: Beam comparison

Distance: ~10m

<-Left: my old miserable LED-light

->Right: BU (butt-ugly) new headlight.


And no, the left picture is not just an empty jpeg.

Butt-ugly DIY bikelight

A couple of days ago I decided that the light of my push-bike was not bright enough. After looking at the prices for better lights (i.e. at least 20 Watts halogen) in a catalog, I was convinced that building my own would be the way to go.

Parts List:

*) 20W, 8 degree halogen spot (5 CHF)
*) rubber pipe coupling(13 CHF)
*) PP pipe plug (1 CHF)
*) lead acid gel cell (48 CHF)

*) a couple of cables
*) a aluminium plate
*) a switch
which I filched from the lab, therefore free.

All in all 67 CHF, or about 40 Euros.
A note about the batterie: I got myself a whopping 7 amphours cell, weighting in at about 2.6 kg. This should give me about 3.5 to 4 hours of light. (20W @ 12V draw 1.67A, and 7/1.6=4.2h, remove 20% for low efficiency)

First I drilled a coupe of holes in the aluminium-plate - it will be mounted on the bike-frame, where the cup-holder thingie normally sits. I also drilled two holes in the end-cap, for the switch and the cables.

The halogen spot, was connected to the cables via a cable-connector (no clue what it is properly called - those things electricians use to connect mains-cables). This has the advantage that you can change the spot easily - to get one with a wider angle, for example. Or a 50W bulb. Which would still give me more then an hour of light. Hmmmm...

The spot and the end-cap fit perfectly into the coupling, which can be tightened up so they sit, well, tight I guess.

Then I mounted the whole thing in my bike with a couple of cable-binders. Which is ugly. But hey, light! Bright! Shiny! Also, nobody will want to steal my bike now!

I'll probably tinker a bit with the mounting of the battery tomorrow (waterproofing comes to mind), and I might build a nicer enclosure for the light at some point (aluminium tubing maybe?), but I am pretty happy with it. Now I need only a bit of darkness...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Schlafentzug (silly german poetry)

A poem about sleep deprivation, inspired by Aniger.
Completely untranslateable (at least by me, so if you don't speak German, you are safe).

Hilfe gegen Schlafentzug,
das ist ja bekannt genug,
bietet dann und wann
das An

Das An ist lieb, nicht wie der Ent
der (das weiss jeder der ihn kennt)
kratzig buerstig und gemein
ist ein Schwein

Das An ist plueschig-plauschig weich
kuschellieb und pflegeleicht
ein Zweibein und auch zahm

Drum, willst Du schlafen supergut,
wie man so gerne schlafen tut,
verscheuch das Ent mit lug und trug
und schlaf
im Schlafanzug

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Quick and dirty iPod armband

I recently reactivated my little sisters' iPod-mini with a new battery. I like it (especially the interface, no surprise there), but it is a bit bulky to put it in your pocket. Furthermore, then you have to dig it out while hurtling down the steep streets of Lausanne on your push bike - not for the faint of heart like me.

since I am too cheap to buy some kind of overpriced remote-control or iArmband, I decided to make one myself.


*) piece of aluminium (or another rigid material)
*) strap of leather (CHF 9 at Hennes&Mauritz)
*) two pieces of Velcro I had lying around
*) super-hyper-uber strong scotch tape (we use it to tie down wild plasmoids in the lab)

I used the scotch-tape to fix the aluminium plate trice on the iPod mini: On the very top and bottom, as well between the screen and scroll-wheel. Each strip is about 1 cm wide, and together they are strong enough that I cannot move the plate by hand.

I put the leather-band on the top, and the Velcro on the bottom of the iPod. No reason why you can't use two leather-bands, or two Velcro-strips. Or an old belt you cut up. Or a piece of cloth. Or the hair of a virgin, cut by moonlight. Go crazy.

Success! When it gets colder I'll probably invest in a second leather-band, so I can put the thing on over my jacket without being ashamed of el cheapo Velcro-strip.

I mounted the iPod head down, so I can read the title of the song at a glance. It is surprisingly comfortable - I'll probably wear it in the lab as well.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sneaky Facebook

And suddenly I have a Facebook account. Never wanted one, but there you are. All I wanted to do was view some photos of a friend of mine. Filled out some form or other, bla bla email, password - and then I find out I am sucked into the social sinkhole that is Facebook.

I don't know if I will do much with my new account - maybe I will add a couple of pictures or whatnot. If you can't contain yourself, here it is. But, you know, you have to have your own account to log in. And thus the dread disease does dispread.

I thought that dispread (a synonym of spread) is a(nother) completely nonsensical english word, seeing that the prefix dis- normally means the opposite or absence of something.

But, says the Merriam-Websters dictionary:

Main Entry: dis-
Function: prefix
Etymology: Middle English dis-, des-, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French des-, dis-, from Latin dis-, literally, apart; akin to Old English te- apart, Latin duo two -- more at TWO
1 a : do the opposite of b : deprive of (a specified quality, rank, or object) c : exclude or expel from
2 : opposite or absence of
3 : not
4 : completely

So it seems that dispread means (or meant, since its definition is "to spread abroad or out") spreading completely. Or I have mixed up the etymology, could be that the dis in dispread is just a coincidence and has nothing to do with the prefix dis-.