Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Monday, June 30, 2008

Borsic's Bitchin' Cuban Coffee Beef Stew

Since my girlfriend persist in totally unreasonable refusing to eat dead animals (or alive ones, actually) and I am generally too lazy to cook complicated stuff for myself, my crazy cooking skills mainly extend to base materials of the leafy persuasion. However, from time to time I feel my oats, and then I will hunt down some animal and put it in the pot.

Furthermore, I really like coffee. And for two years I have been sitting on this recipe for coffee stew with beef gravy (originally found here). I never could imagine how that would work, so I was leery of trying it. Last weekend the time had finally come, the stars were right and my girlfriend had abandoned me, citing pre-first-draft thesis submitting  jitters.

I modified it a bit, and here is the result:

Borsic's Bitchin' Cuban Coffee Beef Stew

(A cup is 250 ml)

1/2 kg boned rump roast


coarsely ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups strong brewed coffee

1 cup beef broth

2 finely chopped onions

1/3 cup dry red wine

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 dried chili peppers

1 cup diced potato

1 cup diced carottes

1/2 cup whole pitted dates, chopped

2 cups hot cooked long-grain rice

Cut the beef into mouth-sized cubes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add beef, and cook 5 minutes or until browned. Add coffee, broth, onions, peppers and garlic and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 45-60 minutes.

Add potatoes, carrottes and dates, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Serve over rice.


Good Lord, this is the most awesomnestest stew I ever saw, made, or ate. The dates, wine coffee and stew are a blend made in - well, I would say heaven, but it is much too god for that (Also, it's Cuban, and they don't have that there). This is the original temptation, and if the stupid devil had offered that to ol' Jesus in the desert, we would all sing "Hail Satanas" in the church now. I will never eat anything else, ever.

Now I will only have to come up with a vegetarian version for my girl...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

English Book Haul

Curse you, Amazon! A pest on your tempting recommendation system!

Alas, I am weak, and so I succumbed to it's tempting siren song. Even though I have only read two of my new French novels...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

YAWN (Yet Another Wimpy Injury)

It's been a long time since I hurt myself: T'was the VI Nones of May when I unsuccessfully tried to amputate my right stinky finger. So this month I pulled the tendons of my big toe whilst trying to pull off a citadel-block during combat in Võ Vietnam.

That is one thing I really like in Võ Vietnam: all the techniques have a poetic name. One kick is called "The horse rushes through the prairie", another one "Lashing the calves". The reason is that originally techniques were taught via poem: Your master would give you a poem, and then leave you alone for a couple of months while you tried to figure out how to translate the stances into movements on your own. Once he was satisfied with the results, he'd teach you the next one...

So my newest injury is no big deal, only our 2-week summer training camp is in three weeks. I probably will be able to participate, but I will have to take care, since injured tendons take up to six weeks to heal completely. Drat.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Plan de Recherche

I have finally submitted my research plan, something you have to do a year after you begin your doctorate at the EPFL. After it has been accepted, I will be finally an official graduate student and then... well, then nothing, really. Nothing at all will change.

If you really want to read it, click on the image on the right. Oh, and despite the title page, it is in English, thank god.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

New Hat

To commemorate the beginning of summer, I have bought a new hat, a (very cheap) Panama. My girlfriend, supporting as always, says it makes me look gay. But she is a creature of small discrimination, so I forgive her, in a manly way.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stupid Motorola

I have this Motorola KRZR phone, which I hate. I mean, it works well enough as a phone, but the menu structure is ridiculous, the camera is crappy and the phone software is so awful I wouldn't use the camera anyway, because downloading your pictures to the computer is complicated and buggy.

Also, despite having an USB plug, it won't charge off a PC without some Motorola drivers being installed. Why? Because Motorola hates me, thats why.

The last couple of days those drivers suddenly stopped working, spouting something about "fatal" errors. Now I like the association of fatal and Motorola, but of course the KRZR is more insidious: As soon as the battery gets low, it emits a very loud beep every ten minutes. For hours. Why? Because Motorola hates me, thats why.

I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the drivers, but no luck. Why? Because Motorola hates me, thats why.

But yesterday I finally found the solution on "The Digital Voice" blog: Go to c:/windows/system32/drivers and delete the file wdf01000.sys. Why? Because Motorola hates me, thats why. Also, because then it works.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

French Book Haul

Look at the books on the right - which one doesn't fit? Exactly, Steven Brusts "Jhereg", because poor Mr. Brust's novel is not French.

I bought Jhereg on a whim, and discovered something marvelous: My French is finally, finally good enough that I can not only read a novel, but also enjoy it. (Jhereg itself is all right I guess. No high literature this, but a reasonably fast read). So off I was to the local Payot to delve into the French SF/F scene: Gaborit, DuFour and of course Laurent Genefort.

Right now I am reading Mathieu Gaborit's "Les Chroniques des Crépusculaires", and I noticed at once that it was more difficult to read than Brust's translation. Not very surprising of course, and I can still read it. Very satisfying, and a far cry from my first attempts at French reading (A translation of Fritz Leiber's "Vagabond"). Back then I was stumped by a mysterious, mysterious paragraph where the protagonists where apparently climbing a hillside, getting all sweaty with ropes and hooks and whatnot, but kept popping back into a car in mid-sentence. When (after an hour or so) I finally looked up all the words in my dictionary I discovered that the guy had actually been undressing the girl in his car, and had problems with her bra - hence the hooks...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rhubarb cake


Four egg-yolks, 150 g sugar, a packet of vanilla sugar, a shot of rum, 150 g butter, 250 g flour.


Four egg-whites, 100 g sugar, 500 g rhubarb.

Cooking time: About 20-30 minutes at 200° Celsius.


Thursday, June 19, 2008


This is the construction of the new Rolex Learning Center at the EPFL. It's not a mere library, you know, it's a learning center. Because, I imagine, you can learn there. Whereas in a library, you can only, ah, well.

Anyway, it is a huge construction site, and they have already poured about 2500 m3 of concrete - about half of what they will use eventually. Very complicated construction as well, because of the curved shape. Much of the concrete had to be poured in one go, as it will be stronger that way.

Above a photo of the construction site as of yesterday, and below how it is supposed to look after it is finished, but before it becomes dirty because of all those pesky students using it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I would be the worst caveman ever. I would die from hunger or disease, or (most probable) from exposure, unable to make a fire.

This weekend I went for a quick jaunt into the forest, to try out my new khukris. Also with me was one of those magnesium fire sticks, and a bottle of water. The idea was to flail about with the khukri, and then prove my manliness and crazy survival skills by burning the resulting kindling.

Well, the first part went very well. The khukri is absolutely awesome, and many a tree fell befor my wrath. Then I prepared a nice pile of dry wood-shavings, a pile of dry sticks, and got a water bottle to put out the inevitable blaze. I whipped out my brand new fire-stick, and started shaving off sparks. This part worked rather well, and soon I was nearly blind from the contrast of the gloomy forest and the bright sparks.

Unfortunately there seems to be a trick to making fire that nobody told me about. It took me about one hour - then I got bored and left. (This is where in a cave-man situation death would set in, I imagine.)

In retrospective, I think the reason behind my dismal failure was that my kindling was much too coarse - you'd probably need some wood dust. Maybe next weekend I will try again, and this time start off with hunting for some spunk or birch-bark.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Awesome melon cake and brussels sprouts gratin

What I cooked this weekend:

The main dish was a modification of Jamie Oliver's onion gratin. The original recipe was very good, but there is almost no dish that cannot be made more delicious by adding Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately I did not manage to snap a picture of it before my girlfriend and I were all over it like ravaging wolves, but here is how to make you very own:

(Feeds about three to four):

500g Brussels sprouts
4 red onions
200g crème fraiche
1/8l white wine
2-4 cloves of garlic
some cheese
olive oil
salt and pepper

Quarter the onions, and separate the resulting petals. Put the petals and the sprouts into a flat casserole ( I actually used my cake spring form), add a good glug of olive oil and the garlic, some pepper and some salt. Mix well, then add the white wine. Cover in aluminium foil, and put it in the oven at 200° centigrade for about 45 minutes. Then remove the foil, and let roast for another 15 minutes.

Stir in the crème fraîche, and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. (I used simple pizza cheese, but it would be probably even better to use a mixture of Parmesan and some other cheese) Turn down the heat to 180°, and leave it for another 15 minutes, or until nicely golden. Serve with some fresh bread. Njam!

As dessert, I made this melon cake, which surprised me very much. I didn't have too high hopes for it, as I wasn't too sure about the combination of bananas, honey melon and biscuit, but it worked just fine.

I have to admit that I cheated and bought the biscuit base. Then I cut up two bananas and covered the base with the slices, covered those in turn with melon slices, and drenched everything in 6 sheets worth of gelatin (which I prepared with two tablespoons of rum, for the taste). Let it rest in the fridge for about 1 hour, devour.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Only in Switzerland

Only in Switzerland is the milk standardised. Yes of course, all modern countries have health standards for comestibles. But I think it is only the Swiss that are so proud of them that they use it to sell their milk. "Hey!", the milk seems to say, "I am not just any old pint of milk, I have standards. Look at me: I am exactly one liter. 3.5% fat. Flash-heated to 90 degrees centigrade, make no mistake. I come from standard-cows, who fed on standard-hay, with standardised antibiotics added for good (and standard) measure."

Switzerland. Even the milk here is stuck-up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nice t-shirt

I like the t-shirt. The shades however, kinda make me look gay. Of course, the underlying manliness still shines through. A bit. I think. I will still return those shades to my girlfriend.

The t-shirt? From XKCD, of course.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

More Khukris

No I didn't buy any more, but here are all of them in one picture, for comparison. Aren't they gorgeous?

I have spent the last couple of days sharpening them until you could shave with them. I don't recommend it though, especially not with the big one. It weighs about half a kilogram after all, which makes it a bit unwieldy. Not that I have tried shaving with it, mind you. Oh no, that would have been stupid. But if you did, you probably would cut yourself. I think. So don't. Because that hurts.

Anyway, either today or tomorrow I will finally invade and violate an innocent forest, wood or copse, and start chopping. Yay!

Friday, June 13, 2008


There is this bird who likes to circle over the EPFL. First I thought it a vulture, come to feed on the bodies of disillusioned students and faculty.

But today it circled quite low - of cources I only had my small Exlim with me, I don't know why I even bothered to buy the SLR! But I nevertheless managed to snap the picture on the right, and according to this site it is a buzzard. The common buzzard, to be precise, Buteo buteo buteo. It will still happily feed on our corpses, I suppose, but it also takes the occasional cute rabbit or mouse.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good Coding Practice

I have been playing around with the Google desktop gadgets lately.

I love the sidebar, but it has always bugged me that the weather gadget only shows the forecast for the current day when docked to the sidebar like in the picture on the right. To see the forecast for the next three days you have to either undock it, then it floats around and clutters up your workspace, or click on it, then a stupid little window pops up - cluttering up your workspace. But there is no way to just expand it right there in the sidebar.

Well, I thought, I'll just have a quick look at the source code then. All gadgets are really just a bit of xml and javascript - it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out how to re-write it to do what I want it to do.

Well, without further ado, here is what professional javascript code looks like. Written either by Google's Best or a horde of drunken and angry, angry monkeys - I can't really tell:

Don't you just admire the clear structure? Not one character is wasted on comments or - heaven forfend! - whitespace. Or linebreaks. Because that's for whimps, really.

But I persevered, and finally found the bit of code I needed to change. It was in the eight of eight javascript files, naturally, 8_main.xml.compiled.js to be precise. You have to replace the instance of Function Ha() highlighted above with the function Ia(). And I know what you are thinking: "Obvious. Any idiot could have figured that out!" Well, so I did.

And here is the fruit of my labours: The expanded Google weather gadget, docked. Telling me that the weather will be crap the next three days, which is no big surprise, because it has been crap for the last two weeks. But still, it is nice to be confirmed in one's misery.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dumber Drosophila Drudge on Longer

Ahh, drosophila, the common fruit fly. She has long been the mascot of the student association of technical physics in Vienna, due to her ability to spontaneously spring into existence in huge numbers over stale puddles of wine.

New and exciting research has now shown that dumber drosophila live longer - something I have long suspected when observing with disgust the unwashed masses.

LEARNING ABILITY AND LONGEVITY: A SYMMETRICAL EVOLUTIONARY TRADE-OFF IN DROSOPHILA is the title of a paper written by Burger et al, at UNIL, the university of Lausanne. My neighbours, really, right next to the EPFL. They taught fruit flies to associate food with a certain smell, and then bred them for "intelligence" for about 40 generations. Those elite fruit flies learned faster and retained information better than their less benighted brethren, but they lived on average 15% shorter. Fecundity was also reduced. Another strain was selected for enhanced longevity, and consequently showed a 40% reduction in learning ability as compared to the control.

What does that tell us? Well, I plan to live a long live, so it tells me nothing. Nothing at all. Except that I am doing the right thing in typing blog-entries instead of doing my research.

Head of Drosophila residua. Photo taken by Karl Magnacca.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Rice tea

I have a new favourite sort of tea: Genmaicha 玄米茶, or rice tea. It is also sometimes called "popcorn tea", because some of the rice pops during the roasting process.

My little sister brought it with her from her recent trip to Japan, and luckily for me neither she nor our parents really like it, so I swiped the whole 300 gram box. The mild flavour of the green tea mingles nicely with the earthy aroma of the roasted brown rice.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Khukri III

I confess, I also bought the hugely unpractical (if you are a wimpy city-dweller like me) and probably illegal-to-carry big badass version of the Khukri. The blade is 26 centimeter long, and 5 centimeters wide at the belly. I can't wait for the weekend, when I finally get to go into the forest somewhere and chop up some innocent trees.

Then I will probably hang it on my wall, next to my katanas, wicked mongolian knife-with-chopsticks and the Indian dagger my girlfriend gave me. Good stuff!

Next on my acquisition-list: Either an oriental dagger, if our Egyptian holiday this winter pans out, or a cane sword. Probably the dagger though, because cane-swords are illegal in Switzerland. It's okay to own an assault rifle, mind you - in fact, every male Swiss is supposed to have one at home, with a box of ammunition, but heaven forfend if you own a cane-sword, you filthy homicidal criminal, you.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Khukri II

Ahem. Yes, I also bought a bigger version of the Khukri, because the letter-opener is for small children and nerds, and I am a big nerd, dammit.

The blade is 14.5 centimeters long, and 3 centimeters wide at it's belly.

It comes with two little tools, a Karda (second picture, top) and a Chakma (second picture, bottom. No, not the yellow thing, that's a ruler.), the former being a small utility knife (probably to better gouge your enemies eyeball out), and the letter a small sharpening steel.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I lost my folding knife, so I have been on the lookout for a nice little knife since then. Fortunately I stumbled over Himalayan Imports, an outfit that imports Khukris from Nepal, taking care to pay the local smiths a fair price.

The Khukri (also spelled Kukri, khukuri, etc...) is a traditional Nepalese knife used both as a tool and a weapon. It is best known in the west as the knife of the Ghurka fighters.

The one I bought here is a miniature version, intended as a letter opener, but it will do quite nicely as a small utility knife for me. Like all "real" khukris it is forged from the leaf suspension springs of trucks. That means it is made of high-carbon steel: very tough, but not stainless, so I will have to take care to avoid rust. The sheath is made of wood and buffalo hide. The blade is ten centimeters long, and 1.8 cm wide at it's widest point.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Old and Slow

Ouch. This is what happens when you are too slow when training for Võ Vietnam. I blame it on my old, old age.

I have been doing Võ Vietnam for about a year now, and I have to say I like it very much. More than Tae Kwon Do though? Difficult to say. I miss the high kicks, the spinning and jumping very much, true. On the other hand, Tae Kwon Do is more of a sport than a martial art. In sparring you use protection, you are not allowed to grapple or use throws and sweeps, and all those high kicks are, well, a bit unrealistic.

In Võ Vietnam, on the other hand, you don't use any protection at all, and trust your partner to pull his punches just enough so there is no injury. This means that as a student you only get to fight your professors (there is only one "master", maître Nguyên Duc Môc) - but the better your partner, the more you learn anyway.

There is only one thing I am not too happy about: Generally we don't punch the head - too risky. But I fear that means that our guard is too low, all the time. Nothing reminds you to keep your guard up like a good punch in the nose - just thinking about it is not the same.

But this is a minor quibble, all in all I am very happy to have found such a brilliant style to practice!

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Where on earth can you go north one meter, west one meter and then south one meter and end up where you started?

Well sure, the north pole. But where else?

update: ahem. south pole, I meant to say. South pole.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Old age and other excuses

Right, the "A post a day in May" and "Two for Tuesday" attempts to force myself into a regular posting schedule failed miserably. It seems that whenever I try to force the muse (I think it was Calliope), the bitch becomes stubborn and starts kicking me in the, ahem, shins. Then I get disgusted with blogging and have to forcefully write nothing for days.

So I will go back to intermittent but hopefully more frequent posts, and we will see what happens.

Also I lay the blame for the last days of silence squarely on my girlfriend, who found my first white hair in my otherwise magnificent beard. She pointed it out to me at once, of course, and then ripped it out gleefully. She then forced me to take the following picture of it - it is a bit blurry because my hands were shaking with old age.

The hair forced me into a deep depression, and Calliope did not help when she pointed out that the creative faculties diminish with advancing age. Ach, those females. Can't live with them, can't kill them and bury them in the little patch of soil behind the house which lies in the shadow of the street lamps at night and where nobody is ever around at about 2 o'clock in the morning except yesterday that was a close one.