Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Friday, July 30, 2010


A. has not taken the charger for the battery packs of her Nikon D80, because she knew that two packs were good for three weeks of shooting. Except those three weeks were two years ago, and lithium- ion packs age.
Nobody else had this particular model, and of cours chargers are not compatible between models, let alone between brands.

But! All these packs use basically the same 7.4 V cells, so it stood to reason that in principle, a Canon charger should have no problem charging a Nikon pack. A bit of fiddling, and lo and behold! the abomination Cankon was born:

In other news, getting up at 5 to watch sunrise at Na Trang beach: totally worth it.

- tales from the road

Location:Tran Phu,Nha Trang,Vietnam

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I know I said there wouldn't be any nice photos until I return, since I am too busy snapping away on my SLR to take out the iPhone, but today the battery on my camera ran out, so I had half an hour to kill before we got back to the bus where I had left my spare.

There you go, but don't get used to it.

By the way, I won't be able to reply to any comments until I get back, since the app I am using doesn't do comments - sorry about that!

- tales from the road

Location:Lê Thị Riêng,,Vietnam

Still alive

I know you are all waiting with baited breath for news and photos from Vietnam - but there won't be any, because there is too much to do and see. I have barely time to steal a couple of minutes to type this, here in the Me Kong delta, the it is off to the floating Market, and some rat. Mmh, rat.

Here have a photo of a photo of the fish tanks of a small roadside restaurant ( hole-in-the-wall, to be frank), with some ba ba (turtle) swimming happily around, unbeknowst of its eventual fate. We didn't have ba ba though, but rather some nice grilled frog and sparrows.

- tales from the road

Location:Lê Thánh Tôn,Can Tho,Vietnam

Friday, July 23, 2010


We got into Saigon this Morning. Traffic is even more insane than in Ha Noi. Pretty tired, on account of not having slept. Went to eat snake yesterday evening, and then into a club. Afterwards party in the hotel room until 530h, then breakfast and off to the airport.
Snake is good, and a video of the poor thing is forthcoming, once I am back. Oh, and I got to eat/drink the heart with a shot of rice-alcohol!

- tales from the road

Location:Lê Thị Riêng,,Vietnam

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


After much agonising I decided to take my iPhone to Vietnam after all - maybe I'll find some WiFi from time to time.
Thus you are treated to this short update, while I wait for my flight to Hanoi at the airport in Paris.

We already came to Paris Friday evening, with the nefarious Plan to meet some friends and party until Sunday morning. I am happy to report that the plan panned out, and that the 13ème arrondissement sports some excellent bars.

Now I am looking forward to catch some sleep in the plane, though.

Ps.: didn't have Internet after all, posting this from Ha Long Bay, a vouple of days later

- tales from the road

Location:Terminal 2,Tremblay-en-France,France

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bollocks to this...

... I am off to Vietnam. The US-after-action report will have to wait for three weeks more.

I don't know if the internet grows in Vietnam, so there may be silence on this blog until the second week of August - I am sure you will survive.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Run run run

While in New York (I know, I still need to do the after-action report. Before Friday, I swear), I bought these:

These are not my disgustingly dirty feet, these are my disgustingly dirty Vibrams, my new running shoes, after my first run with them. Here is how they look in the shop, before you run along the lake-shore for an hour or so:


The Vibrams are more gloves for your feet than proper shoes - all they do is protect your soles from glass and other pointy things. No cushioning, no air-soles, no support.

The idea behind that is simple: Our feet evolved over a million years for bare-foot running. It's what they do, and they do it well. Now we don't run around barefoot all day any more, so our soles are soft and can't deal with the ground and sharp stones like they should, but the rest of the mechanism works just fine. So just slap on an artificial sole, and everything should be peachy.

Does it work?
I am no stranger to hopping around barefoot, I train martial arts for a couple of hours a week. So I thought running in the Vibrams wouldn't be a problem for me, and in wasn't. At the start.
I am not a runner, but I am generally fit, and I know that running for 90 minutes or two hours is no big problem for me. Still, new shoes, and two hours of training coming up this evening, so I kept it down to about an hour. Here is the route I took, from the EPFL to the marina and back, about eight kilometres.

View Larger Map

First of all, running in the Vibrams is as much fun as barefoot running. Your feet adjust automatically so you land on the balls of your feet, your heels won't touch the ground at all. You can run on tarmac no problem, but the real fun is running over rough terrain, as you can feel the ground through the thin soles. Second of all, training for martial arts does not a runner make, and my calves are screaming at me right now because of this. Running on your toes puts much more strain on your calf-muscles, and mine were woefully unprepared, which is why I took an hour for eight measly k's. But my joints were fine, no worries at all. The feel of the Vibrams is also excellent - they are so light you don't notice them at all, apart from a vague feeling of having mud between your toes. But I happen to like mud between my toes, so no worries there. I am, as you may be able to tell, quite happy with them, and look forward to adding one or two midday runs to my weekly routine!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Three sketches

I didn't have much time to draw during my stay in the US - too much to do, too much to see, and about a thousand photos to be shot - but here are three pages out of my sketchbook:

After a photo - I can't capture fleeting expressions from live subjects yet.

A girl sleeping a the airport. Her head looks a little bit small, but I swear that is how she looked like. Except for the hand, which could be a little bit bigger.

He was Dutch, really. Hanging around the common room of the youth hostel, concentrating on his laptop screen, as Romans are wont to do.

All three were done relatively quickly - about half an hour each.

Flying Home

On Sunday I had to say good-bye to New York and fly home. Yes, I missed the US' Independence Day, due to forgetting all about it when I booked the flight.

My flight to the US (with United Airlines) was plagued by all kind of problems - the flight back with Swiss Air was a sheer joy in comparison. Of course I can't say anything in general with a sample size of one, but here are some thoughts:

The Airbus A330 is a much nicer and more modern Airplane than the ageing Boeing 767, which I do not remember fondly. No surprises there, since the A330 was first flown in 1992, versus the Boeings 1982. It shows.

Metal cutlery! Apparently the Swiss are not afraid of their passengers hijacking the plane with a metal butter knife. The Swiss are just bad-ass like that.

Babies can, and will cry for two and a half hours straight when provoked, and said crying will cut through earplugs, blankets, glass and any other material known to mankind.

Swiss Air uses Linux for its onboard entertainment system, which didn't prevent it from crashing horribly, twice. The stewardess eventually had to pull the circuit breaker to reset.

A 'thoughts about the US' post will follow soon.

- tales from the road

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Vietnamese Lunch

It's probably kind of wrong to eat Vietnamese in Chinatown, but the place looked good, and more importantly, a horde of Vietnamese was trooping in when I happened by. Also, I do need to prepare for Vietnam later this month.

I had some Nems first

And then Pho, of which I never get tired of.

The excellent thing about eating at those places is that you get rather excellent tea, unasked for and free of charge. Quite a different experience to Central Europe, where tea (and a measly two cups at best) will cost you 3 Euros or more!

- tales from the road


The thing with the Guggenheim is that it has a very small permanent exhibition - thus your visit stands and falls with how much you like the temporary one.

Unfortunately, the current exhibition, Haunted, is not really my thing. Much too modern, it goes mostly right over my head. Furthermore, two other galleries in the annex were closed for the installation of new exhibitions. That being said, the Tannhäuser Gallery is small, but good. Two pieces I particularly liked:

Van Gogh's Paysage enneigé


and Picasso's Fernande à la mantille noire


In my humble opinion Picasso should have forgotten about cubism, and surrealism, and stuck with painting amazing stuff like the above ;) Although you can see, or so the Guggenheim maintains, that he already starts to move from expressionistic and romantic painting to abstraction, and I guess I could be convinced of that. Still, Fernande is much more accessible to me than his later work. Don't make my poor brain work too much!

Which, come to think of it, may be the crux of my problems with modern art (if you can call the 1950's modern) - I want to appreciate and enjoy art, not work for it. Sheer laziness, I am afraid.

Batman's Vet

To the Bat-Vet, Robin!

Friday, July 2, 2010


I met Charles at the hostel I am staying in, where he was helping out. We got to talking, and then some drunk Australian dude (you can always depend on drunk Australians) asked the question I was too bashful to ask: where you there at 9/11?

Turns out Charles was supposed to be in the twin towers for a job interview that day, but missed it because a co-worker in his old job was late that day.

Speaking to Charles made it clear to me why 9/11 was such a big deal to Americans. Because if you look at the dry statistics it wasn't, more people die on the roads every year by far. But looking at the dust clouds of the collapsing building and thinking: that could've been me, except for my drunk collegue - I guess that would get your attention...

- tales from the road

Street cleaning

à la New York

More MoMA

Please excuse the blurry picture, but I did not have much time to immortalise this classic situation:

Granny, Defiler of Art

It is a bit hard to see, but the old lady is resting her bag on a chair - she was searching for something in it.  Only the chair was part of an artwork - the sign to the right of it reads out the dictionary definition of the word chair.  I only had time to snap a quick picture before a horrified attendant chased her away. Now I wonder: does this mean the artist failed? If your artwork is mistaken for an everyday object, does it stop being art? Or did he succeed in some weird meta-commentary on how art is a reflection on reality, so mistaking one for the other validates his (for me) somewhat obscure point? Just goes to show I am better off as a physicist than an art critic.

Speaking of attendants, some artists hate them. Seriously. Take Bruce Nauman for example.

Nauman, professional dickhead

Briefly, he had this installation where seven voices recited the days of the week, continuously, out of fourteen speakers. The cacaphony was awful, and nobody stayed in the room more than a few minutes, if that.

The voices, they spoke to me...

Except the poor attendant. He was standing near a window, softly singing to himself. I didn't dare snap a photo of him, because he looked ready to snap and start murdering people with his bare hands...

Thursday, July 1, 2010


The Guggenheim is closed on Thursdays, so I went to the Museum of Modern Art.

The painting I like most so far is Matisse's Musketeer. Not exactly modern art, I know. But I have to admit I don't get most of it. Some of it is aesthetically pleasing, some makes me chuckle (Ceci n'est pas une pipe), but most goes over my head. Even Picasso: I can somehow see that much thought and art went into his work - something that I can't say for many other artists: I can't tell Pollock's stuff apart from a paint spill - but I still don't get it.

Yet there is some hope for me: I didn't get Gaugin either a couple of years ago, or Matisses later stuff, but now I do. Yay me!

- tales from the road

Location:W 54th St,New York,United States

Views from the Empire State Building

You don't really get a feel for how big New York is, unless you see it from above. Another thing you can see is the barrel distortion my new 18-200 mm full range zoom has on its wide end. I am still quite happy with it, though, and will tell you all about how it performs in a post in the near future.

The Empire state building throws an impressive shadow:

Or the Chrysler tower. Whatever. Big shadow!

Crane on top of puny skyscraper. Empire State Building laugh! Skyscraper puny!

The spire on top was ment as a docking station for dirigibles. Unfortunately, the huge updrafts created by the building itself prevented its use. Think of how awesome it would have looked like if the Hindenburg was moored to the tallest skyscraper of New York!

Something like this, maybe:


Lady cheese-eating surrender monkey

Liberty & Ellis Island: about five hours. Excellent audio tour. And funnily enough, the photo I like most of the about hundred I shot today, I snapped with my iPhone.

- tales from the road