Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New reactor, part IV

See also parts I, II & III

It's been four months since I handed over the new reactor I designed to my Master's student. Now I have the results in hand: "Experimental investigation of new structured radio-frequency plasma electrodes".

For a Master Thesis, R. sure had nice results - but you aren't interested in those, so I'll proceed to present you pretty pictures, photographed by R.:

The small experiment itself - it's the little tower in the middle, sandwiched between two much larger DC arc experiments. R. confessed to occasional feelings of inadequacy when comparing his small plasma box with the huge one meter, 600 amps arcs. "Size doesn't matter," I told him, with a smirk.

Closeup of the plasma box inside the vacuum vessel, before attaching all the diagnostics to it. The pink glow is from a hydrogen plasma.

It is very easy to ignite an argon plasma, but you'll get instabilities (the bright blobs in the middle) faster than you can say "metastables are your uncle". So R. worked mostly in hydrogen, which is closer in behaviour to the silane used in silicon deposition anyway.

This is what it looks like if you drive a plasma box I designed for about 100, 200 Watts max at 600 Watts. Why do it? "To find out what happens," he shrugs. Students: Pushing the limits of technology since the dawn of time. "Urg make fire hotter!" must have been how pottery was invented.

The inescapable results of working on the bleeding edge of plasma physics - or at least of not listening when I mildly suggest that even though your generator is capable of a 1000 Watts output, that does not mean you are obliged to use all of them.

Still, all in all it was quite enjoyable supervising R.'s master thesis, and much less hassle than I thought it would be.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fr'er Rabbit in Beer & 'shrooms

My parents gave me this excellent cast-iron pan for Christmas. This is really an essential piece in every kitchen - forget all those stupid Teflon-coated anti-stick pans (not that I don't have some of them as well), nothing beats the good old cast-iron.

First of all, you can get it as hot as you like - all non-stick coatings will start to degrade around 200 centigrade, adding some mildly poisonous fluorocarbons to your food. They won't kill you, but can give you flue-like symptoms.

You can stick your cast-iron piece in the oven as well, and it will develop it's own anti-stick coating, which will be nearly as good as the old polytetrafluoroethylene anyway.

But enough of the shilling, here is what I made yesterday: Delicious beer rabbit stew with mushrooms and dumplings.

You'll need: Half a rabbit, flour, baking powder, tarragon, bit o' the old molokko, shallots (or onions), butter, salt, pepper, beer, also some beer for cooking, some nice mushrooms.

The dumplings are simply made: 200g flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, 100g butter, some tarragon, salt & pepper. Add just a bit of milk, knead until you have a non-sticky dough, make eight dumplings and park them in the fridge, for now.

Meanwhile, your pan will be sitting on the stove, but no worries, 'cause it's iron and doesn't care. Coat your rabbit-pieces (I had half a rabbit, cut into six pieces) with flour, add some oil in the pan and sear the shit out of them, or until brown on all sides. Depending on the size of your pan, you might have to do this in batches.

Put all the rabbit-pieces back in, add some bacon-strips and fry - keep everything moving with your trusty wooden spoon. When the bacon starts getting crispy, add a handful of shallots, and 200g of assorted fine 'shrooms - I had some most excellent oyster mushrooms (my favourites), shiitake and uh - other stuff. Fry for 8 to 10 minutes or so (this is not very time-critical, just don't let them shrivel all up), then put in a bit more flour (a tablespoon maybe), about half a can of beer and 400 ml of chicken broth. Turn down the heat, put a cover on and simmer for about half an hour, and preheat your oven to 200 centigrade.
When the half-hour is over gauge the level of fluid - you might want to add some more beer, or water if you are a pussy. You can also season it a bit more, it could probably do with some salt & pepper. Now put the dumplings in so their top sticks out of the stew, and put the whole she-bang into the oven, without cover. Leave it there for another 30-45 minutes, or until the dumplings cry mercy. Enjoy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Snow is melting

Snow, warm, slush, rain, sun, bit of snow again - I wish the weather here would just settle down, dammit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Netbook sleeve

Over the holidays I made a sleeve for my new eeePC, under the (very) close supervision of my mother. It was not easy.

First, I had to hunt down, kill and skin those rarest of baby seals: The ones who get colour-sprayed by PETA or Greenpeace, which makes their fur extra valuable, and a pretty colour to boot.

(Photo from Gettyimages)

Unfortunately the activists tend to spray only small spots or lines, so you need an ungodly number of baby seals. After skinning them, I approached (with great caution) the sewing machine, she of the pierced fingers. Thankfully my mother agreed to supervise me ("No sew. Slowly. No, not in that direction. Slowly, I said! What are you doing?"), so I could stitch the furs together without major injury on my part. Here is the result:

Nice, isn't it? For future reference, be careful not to hit too hard when clubbing baby seals to death, since getting their blood out of the fur is a bitch.

Here is another shot of the sleeve, closed. I decided not to sew on a Velcro strip, since it stays closed well enough when I tuck the flap in:

Disclaimer: No more than 26 baby seals died a horrible death in the making of this project.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vector calculus in curvilinear coordinates

Quick heads-up: If you are looking into delving into vector calculus, and want to calculate the gradient in orthogonal curvilinear coordinate systems, do not start with

is the ath partial derivative in curvilinear coordinates, Ac a vector and êc a basis vector.
because that resolves to (after many headaches, deriving the derivatives of basis vectors and general cursing):

where ha would be the Lamé-coefficients of the specific basis. This is the expression for the gradient of a vector-field, not a scalar field, which should not come as a surprise of course, since (Acêc) is a vector.

Should not come as a surprise. Surprised the hell out of me, though.

Apparently I have nearly managed to forget everything I ever learned about vector and tensor calculus - so I know what I will be doing the next couple of days...

Edit: Formulas generated via the excellent Texify webpage. If you can't see any, then Texify is dead or down - sorry about that!

Edit the second: Put in the formulas as images, so everybody can see them, even if Texify is acting up - thanks Stephanie for pointing that out!.


Haven't posted any sketches for a while - and I may or may not have missed two days in mi rigorous 30 days of blogging schedule.

Anyway, this was a recent assignment in my drawing course: Draw, from memory, faces showing emotions. I'll let you try and figure out which emotions there were (hint: five of the most basic ones), and then we'll see if I failed to communicate them or not.

As an aside, it was really fun to draw some more cartoon-like faces, and I may have to do more in that direction.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My nephew's albino snake. He'd make a great Slytherin - he keeps three snakes, and I guess skateboarding is the closest thing to flying on a broom you can get at his age (and no acid-jokes here!).

Friday, January 15, 2010


Balls, only a couple of days into my 30-day-bloggothon, and already I nearly forgot to post anything.

Well, I still have 2 minutes, so here is a ball, from place Chauderon, Lausanne:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Adding insult to injury

Not only is it still cold and snowing, we also get a new delivery of liquid nitrogen. I get it, Switzerland, I'll never joke about your winters any more, ever. Now how about some spring?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pencil to comic-style ink

What I've been up to recently in my drawing class:

Last year I drew a realistic (or as realistic as I could make it) Indian chief:

Which I now had to translate into a black-and-white comic version:

I was moderately happy with the former, and am not very happy with the latter - seems that somebody kicked in his face while I was not paying attention. And I only noticed after I had inked him. Grmbl.
Next up: Emotions. Should be a snap, I already feel dread...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ICOPS 2010

I'll be going to the 37th IEEE International Conference on Plasma Science (ICOPS) in Norfolk, Virginia.
This is my first conference where I'll be reporting serious science, so I am pretty excited. After three days of toiling I have now just finished my abstract (and two days before the deadline to boot!), which I can't show you, because it's sekrit, so there.
But here is a quick wordle of it:

Why yes, it is all about breakdown. How did you guess?

But it is also about dark space shielding, a term I only recently learned is also applicable to my research. And if that doesn't sound cool, I don't know what will.

I can already imagine my next party:
"I? Oh I do research in dark space shielding. No ladies, there is no need to rush!"
Yes. I am sure this is exactly how it will happen!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Announcement: 30 days of blogging

I've been slagging in my blogging lately, so to start of 2010 on a productive note, I hereby pledge to post once per day for 30 days. Be prepared.

Picture: Coffee at the CRPP, yesterday. Brrr.

L'artiste, c'est moi

One of my pictures up on deviantart, specifically the 'Victorian Girl' was used for a flyer:

I feel all artisty now (artful? artist-like?), although I shall keep my day-job. For now.

Unfortunately I don't know where this amazing event will take place, but if you know a 'Revolution Café & Bar', then rock up on the 22nd and tell them how awesome their flyer is. You could also try and claim to be me, using your worst Austrian accent (think Terminator), maybe they'll let you in for free!