europe of the east

Ancient tunnels ring
With wind on stone, and beers sing,
With kings on the throne.

Okay, so I didn't actually cheers with any royalty this week.

I did, though, go on vacation.  ;)

A long time ago, in a distant land (by which I mean "Poland," if you subscribe to the rumours of such a place), I was on a train from Oświęcim to Kraków.  I met a few kids from Croatia and we socialised.  Later, one of them (Igor Canadi) and I became friends on Facebook.  It was fine; one of those encounters that's nice to remember on occasion.

Almost a year later, I find myself with a week of vacation and am pointed to an ingenious $30 flight from Geneva to Split, which is in southern Croatia.  Igor lives in Zagreb, which is a 5-hour, $30 bus ride away.  He says it's okay if I stay with him, and that he'll even show me around.  The flight back home is poorly timed... but, lo!  A flight from Budapest to Geneva at a reasonable time is just another $30!  What a deal, kids.  I go.

Patrick, my former roommate in the Llama School, is in the process of his own grand Europe tour: a hitchhiking, dumpster-diving, sleeping-in-parks whirlwind from Geneva to Zagreb and back.  Not my thing, but to each his own.  Anyway, cheap flights are convenient for everyone!  Not to mention that the fact that I have an accomplice ensures that my mom won't have a heart attack every time she thinks about me.  :)  Hi, Mom.

Adventure, go!

We land in Split, which is an adorable town most of the way down the Croatian coastline.  It's about 19h40 when our plane touches down, so it's getting... well, dark.  We did a poor job on our bus research: the next reasonable bus to Zagreb doesn't leave until 23h30 and doesn't arrive until about 5h30.  But that's okay!  This is a city I'd never been to before, either, and the chance to eat some Dalmatian food (the Dalmatian Islands are right there!  RIGHT THERE!!) and adjust to the crazy-looking local language is something I jump at.  We smell the Adriatic Sea and walk along the harbour.  I think the last time I smelled salt water was my summer at Google, which is more than a year and a half ago now.  It's very refreshing!

We had some pizza at a local pizzeria (of note: the "American pizza" at this restaurant featured French fries and bacon as toppings) and searched out some Croatian beer to tide us over for the bus ride.  A couple days prior, in Geneva, I had stumbled across a beer called Ožujsko that claimed to be Croatian.  We were warned sternly against this beer during our time in Split.  "If you want beer, the red one!" cried the shopkeeper woman as we reached for the yellow cans we recognised.  Karlovačko was the correct drink around these parts.  So we drank some and sat on a park bench by the water for a while, watching crazy teenagers walk by.

The bus ride was looooooong, but I slept.  When we disembarked in Zagreb, I was totally confused about time and day and verging on sick (I guess it was allergies of some variety... dammit, Geneva!), plus my phone has been out of credit for weeks (I can still receive calls in Geneva, which is enough..) and Patrick's ran out when his parents called from the States (since I thought you could receive calls for free anywhere... shiiiii-...), so it was 6am on a Sunday morning when we happened to bump into a fellow sitting at a bus stop who let us use his phone to call Igor and get picked up.  Igor'd been out at a birthday party until we called him, so... we all slept until afternoon.

In the succeeding days, I learned a lot about Zagreb and Croatia in general.  Another of Igor's friends had a friend in town, so he played tourguide for a day and showed off the Old Town (both of them: Zagreb was two cities for a long time), his university, the Coffee Street (more on that later), and the government seats, as well as an amazing view of the skyline from a hill just outside town.  There were also some rusty cars and old buildings to poke around in.  He gave pointers on other things to do around town, including visiting Zagreb's lake (Jarun), sitting around drinking coffee, moving to another café and drinking more coffee, going to the Naïve Art museum, finding another coffee somewhere, and hanging out with him and his Uni friends.  We played poker (I killed), watched English movies subtitled in Croatian (egad, cannot read!), went to a local student bar, and tried our luck at a casino.

We also learned not to drink Karlovačko.  Ever.  Ožujsko is the only way to go in Zagreb. It's brewed there.

Croatia is super laid back, and even according to Croatians, everyone there is lazy.  The cafés were always full of people dreamily watching the world go by.  It wasn't a bad lazy, though... it was... nice.  :)  A meandering through the botanical gardens, a nap on a hill in a city park, a picnic, a trip to the lake, some coffee here or there... I loved it.  And all the Croatians I spoke to were super friendly and kind.  I sort of expected "Eastern Europe" when I visited, but Zagreb at least was really westernized, and everyone spoke English and was eager to help a lost American girl.

I had to get to Hungary to catch my flight home, and Igor was heading that way for a programming contest he and a few of his peers had won a spot in.  The train from Zagreb to Budapest was just another (gasp!  the symmetry!) $30, which is totally reasonable.  Patrick decided to come, too, since he didn't have anything to do for a while and hadn't been satisfied with his last trip to Budapest.

Hungary basically spent several days kicking the shit out of me in various ways.  Well, every "really Hungarian" thing I tried did, anyway.  We'll start with the stuff that was pleasant first, though.

The hostel Patrick and I stayed in (Igor and his pals were being funded by their school, so they got a fancy place in a hotel) was ADORABLE.  AGHHHHHHH.  If you go to Budapest, STAY THERE.  It's just called Art Hostel.  It's basically a converted flat, and there are just 9 beds (5 in one room, 4 in the other), so it's not unreasonable to get to know other people staying there.

Budapest is almost absurdly gorgeous.  I am actually, in fact, shocked that more people don't go on and on about it: it's basically Paris, but everything is about 20% as expensive.  Maybe less.  We bought a 2L bottle of beer for about $1.50.  The buildings are old and stately, the bridges are sweeping and wonderful, and the culture can certainly be felt through the tourism.  There weren't, in fact, that many tourists.  It was amazing.

Most hilarious thing: Signs.  Especially signs about money.  The Hungarian currency is the forint (roughly 200 forints to a US dollar), and that is abbreviated ft.  This leads to amusing confusions, for instance when a taxi cab company advertises 150ft/km.  Hahahahah!

Things I really loved: the Parliament building (although we didn't make it inside... entry is only free for EU residents, which Patrick is not), the view from the Citadel (didn't go in, but from atop the hill there one can see everything on both sides of the beautiful blue Danube), the Budapest History Museum (Saturday is Student Day, so you can get in free!  Lots of the exhibits are only in Hungarian, but just having the chance to explore parts of the Royal Palace is great), the coffee (an adorable café about 100m south of the roundabout at the Budapest tunnel was my favourite place), the moustaches (amazing!), foosball (which is apparently "the sport" to play in Hungarian bars, and to which I was challenged during a stint in one), the cemetery (Budapest's cemetery is probably the creepiest I've ever been to.  It's basically situated in a forest, and seeing graves intermixed and overgrown with trees and vines and bushes is HELLA SCARY.), and the prices.  :)  I believe that for food, drinks, lodging, and entertainment, I spent south of $150 for 5 days, which is pretty damn okay.

So what's Hungarian that kicked my ass?  Well, what do you think of when you think of Hungary?  Traditional Hungarian liquor, goulash, and saunas, am I right?

On traditional Hungarian liquor: it's called Unicum, and it's the devil.  Patrick and I got tipped off that this was what was drunk around those parts, and so we each bought a half litre of the stuff.  Let me tell you that that's a terrible idea: it's 80 proof and it tastes like chewing on a cedar plank.  Of note: it is intended to be taken as a chilled shot after dinner as a digestif.  DO NOT DRINK IT LIKE WE DID.

On goulash: This is actually not what you think it is.  Goulash is a soup.  The real Hungarian thing is called pörkölt, and it's basically a pile of meat and fat mixed with some potato noodles.  I am a pansy little vegetarian girl in general, but I do like trying local cuisine when the opportunity presents itself, so I decided to go for this. As you may be able to imagine, the results were none too pleasant.  I did get through a whole bowl and keep it down, though, so I'm proud of that.  Of note: after eating this, it is super important to sit the hell still and drink a coffee or beer so that it can settle in your poor stomach.  I promise it helps.

On saunas: The last day in Budapest, we went to a Hungarian bath.  The complex was situated in a building that was of... well, schizophrenic architectural style.  Whatever, that's fine.  In the centre, there are two large pools: one regular swimming pool and one thermal bath.  This is nice.  There are also stands peddling freshly-squeezed orange juice for 250ft.  But, lo!  There are also labyrinths of baths inside to be swum in!  They range in temperature from 16 degrees (Celsius, or 60 degrees F) to 40 degrees (104 in F).  And.  Saunas.  The saunas ranged from 45 degrees (113 F) to 100 degrees (212 F).  That 100 degree sauna?  Kicked my ass.  All the way out the fucking door.  But just outside, there was an ice machine where people stood around and smeared ice on their bodies after emerging from the sweltering heat.  Did you know saunas smell like licorice?

p.s. all photos are in my new Picasa page: http://picasaweb.google.com/valkyrie.savage


of ash and ahs

On the long way down,
The screaming girl approaches
Rocks and dam, she thinks.

Hello, friends!

This weekend I had the chance to do the world's highest fixed-point bungee jump without guide ropes.

Remember that scene from the opening of Goldeneye? Yeah. So that's the Verzasca dam in Switzerland (near Lucerno, in the southeastern--Italian--part of the country). It's about 4 and a half hours from Geneva by car.

Julius and Malte (my dear Jugger friends from last summer!) came down to visit me and to pile me and some of my coworkers into cars to make the drive. Five of us plunked 195CHF onto the counter and strapped into bungee gear. YOU CAN FUCKING DO THIS STUNT.

The dam is 220m high, and it's slightly concave, so the bouncing and such doesn't actually bring you anywhere close to the wall or the ground.  But it's a helluva long drop: 7 seconds of free fall before the rope catches you for your first bounce.  And what a bounce it is.

I was trying to come up with some epic clothing to wear for the jump, and Julius suggested that I put on a bikini and a pair of swimming goggles and dive off.  I desperately wanted to, and in fact wore the bikini up to the top of the dam and had the goggles around my neck (does anyone else type "googles" instead of "goggles" when not entirely focused?), but it was too cold and windy for me to manage that, so I went, instead, in a dress.  If I can't be James Bond, I can damn well be a Bond girl.  With a few extra square metres of fabric.  :P

So, about the jump!  I had called dibs on going first out of our group, and everything happened fast.  I guess dozens of people do this every day, and the Trekking.ch people (the website for the jump is here) are an efficient machine.  I had no sooner told them that I wanted to jump than I was given a form ("I am doing this at my own risk"), weighed, put into a suit, tied to a cable, and out on a tiny two-foot-by-one-foot platform looking down.  For those of you who are lazy with math, 220 metres is about two and a half football fields.  Seriously high.

I am a little girl at heart, and this terrified me quite a lot.  Skydiving wasn't this scary, in fact; I guess because that ground thing isn't so imminently visible from 13000 ft.  Anyway, they gave a countdown for the jump as soon as they saw that I had my, er, sea legs.  They had informed me beforehand that it's not just about falling off the platform, but more about jumping as far as you can towards your photographing friends several metres away.  So I pushed off, and almost as soon as my feet left the platform I began screaming like a ninny.  A really happy ninny, but a ninny.  According to the video, I then tucked my feet in and performed a front flip; the bungee cord trailing from my feet formed into a nice spiral behind me.

The echoes of my shrieks off the sides of the big concrete dam were awesome.  I imagined the people in the town at the mouth of the valley could hear them as I bounced wildly at the end of the cord, watching my shadow stretch and slip across the warped and stained concrete surface not too far away.

After getting all bounced out, I pulled a few of the ropes I was attached to and got into a horizontal position (so that I was no longer letting all my blood settle in my brain) and reached my hand out so the operators above could see.  They lowered a big hook to me, which I clipped into my harness, and pulled me up.  And that was that.  :)

We called my mom afterwards.

Me: Hi, Mom.
Mom: Hi, Valie Girl!
Me: So, I have some...
Mom: Where are you?
Me: Switzerland.  I have some news.
Mom: Okay?
Me: I'm (haha, guys, don't point that camera in my face) I'm pregnant.
Mom: !
Me: No, I just bungee jumped off a 200 metre high dam.  Is that better?
Mom: No, um, maybe, um...

Also, Italian Switzerland is gorgeous.  Now that it's spring, there were flowers everywhere and... well, it was awesome.  Piotr has pictures on his Picasa page.

Now, about that ash cloud.  The Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced kind of like "Ey, I forgot la yogurt;" thanks, NYT) volcano is Iceland is spitting crud everywhere, and it's closing airports in Europe like nobody's business.  I even read today that the easternmost airport in Canada has begun cancelling flights due to the ash threat.  From what I understand, there's basically a cloud of glass in the atmosphere, and people seem to think that that would be bad for planes.  Seems reasonable to me.  It sucks for a lot of reasons (my bosses are trapped in Boston, I might not get to go on my Croatian vacation this weekend, Patrick barely made it here and had to hitchhike from Barcelona, I don't know if it will clear in time for me to get home at the end of my stay here, it's costing airlines millions of dollars a day, etc.), but I'm excited that it's cutting down carbon emissions.  TAKE THAT, GLOBAL WARMING.

Except that now scientists think that the volcano is melting a nearby glacier that has been keeping another volcano dormant.  Could be a chain reaction, they're saying.  In the meantime, I guess I'll just stick to bike riding.

Additionally, this weekend saw some adventures related to Jugger and Freebording: my coworker Victor's put up a bunch of photos from both (and other stuff) on his Flickr page, but here are some I like in particular:



Sit, sit and type, type,
All day long in my chair.  Bah!
Let's go get ice cream!

My friend Victor pointed me at a comic strip called Nemi (Wikipedia article), which comes from Norway and is about a hilarious Goth girl.  I read this one just now, and sometimes I feel like this is what I do to the poor dudes in my office:


lake to lake (aka fml)

The rolling hills in
Rural France make for lovely
Scenes and my sad legs.
I like lakes. They're so peaceful and calm: the water just floating around and minding its own business, people milling about and enjoying grassy or sandy lakesides (especially on a warm day like this one), ... So I jumped at the chance to go to Annecy, France, with two other coworkers, namely Hugo and Piotr. It has a lovely lake and a gorgeous old town, and it's basically a composite built of all the things that Americans think about when they think of "romantic Europe." Except the Eiffel Tower. It didn't have that.
But there's this funny thing about lakes. They tend to form in low areas. That generally means that two lakes that aren't connected are separated by something like.. well, like a high area. In this case, it was a very high hill. I just did a map on mapmyride.com and it informs me that we climbed a total of 1210m over our 130-ish km bike ride. That's a shitload of climbing. The woman at the restaurant we went to in Annecy didn't believe that we had come from Geneva.
We did get a late start (about 11:30 we left from Genève), but we got back shortly after sunset. Not too shabby. That includes an hour or so spent in Annecy touristing through the old town and stuffing our faces with as many calories as possible (in the form of pizza and pasta and ice cream).
All in all, the French countryside was really beautiful. Unfortunately, France isn't so friendly to cyclists as Switzerland is; they don't have many bike lanes (we had to settle for the shoulder of small highways), and they lack open stops with fresh water. We were honked at and stuff several times, but Piotr taught me some curse words in Polish, so that was okay.
I now have a sunburn on my back like the ones I used to get when I had long hair that I left braided all the time: burn everywhere except for a nice white strip down the middle of my back where my racer-cut top sat.  Lovely.

Oh, and a map of the ride: Lake to Lake.

easter skiing

At twenty-one, I'm
Invincible!  Just ask the
Piste that my face smashed.

Some of my coworkers and I headed off to the mountains for Easter weekend: a tiny little town called Bourg St. Pierre.  It's about 2.5 or 3 hours from CERN, and it's adorable!  We got a great deal (about 30CHF/person/night) on an apartment that we could all share.  There was a kitchen and a dining room/living room downstairs, then up a spiral staircase sat two bedrooms and the bathroom, and lofted over one of the bedrooms was another couple beds.  The place was full of homey charm.  In the living room we had an old-school radio (like the one my grandparents have!  It lives in a box large enough that it is a piece of furniture rather than a gadget, and it has a record player, but we had no records.), and between the living room and the kitchen were several windows that could be opened so that we were never more than normal-voice-level apart in the downstairs.

Not to mention that the town itself was about 300 people, and at the time we went it was just a little way above the rapidly-receding snowline.  Spring's a-comin'.  Just outside town there were some semi-wild trails leading up into the Alps, and they were populated with a constant flow of cross-country skiiers.  Victor and I went for a hike up there one day, and when we saw some strange chimneys poking up out of the mountainside he explained to me the Swiss military strategy of "piss off to the mountains and cripple the infrastructure for your captors."  Seems like a reasonable enough idea.  :p

As you may have guessed from the blog post title, we did, indeed, go skiing!  I only wound up going once, for reasons which I will explain.  But the place where we went was called Verbier, and it's apparently a haven for too-rich English people trying to get in their last ski weekend before the season's out.  I listened to a couple bantering about their friend who had come to the area, intending to buy an apartment or two to rent, and fell in love and bought two houses instead.  And about their experiences gambling where they lost £250,000 or so.  In a day.  Ugh.

The day after we arrived, we all woke up early and headed over to the slopes (about an hour by car), paid our 66CHF for day passes (and I paid 60CHF more for a snowboard + boots + insurance), cried a little about how absurdly expensive that was, and set off on a telecabine.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and we had a lot of fun playing around in the snow.  Victor and Roman and I went off-piste, which was pretty exciting for me since it was only my second time snowboarding, and I discovered that going off-piste on a snowboard is way easier than staying on, if only for the fact that it's much easier to brake.  That, and if you fall, the snow around you is powdery and nice instead of hard and icy.

After lunch, Roman and I headed off together, and by that time the slopes were starting to get even icier as the sunlight and skiers melted the top layer and the layers underneath refroze it.  I was coming down a slope towards Roman when I caught the toe edge of my board on an ice clump and immediately pitched forward onto my face.  Then I continued going forward, my spine bending and my board flipping over my head, until I came to a breathless rest on my back.

Within seconds there were other snowboarders at my side speaking frantic English and French and asking me if I was okay.  Mysteriously, I was.  Teeth intact.  Nose not broken.  Nothing bleeding.  Board okay.  I never got it diagnosed, but in the following days I had sort of hazy thoughts, and I'm quite convinced that I was experiencing my first concussion.  No matter.  I finished out the day and learned a lot about snowboarding.

In the following days, we played a lot of cards (poker, mostly) and Diablo II (oh, those were the days).  The weather wasn't always nice for skiing, so we also spent Easter Sunday afternoon going down to Italy for a nice dinner and some touristing.  So now I guess I've been to Italy.  :)

Anyway,  it was a good weekend, if expensive and concussion-inducing.  I like these kids.  :D


this is how the end of the world looks

Hairs fly, speed of light,
Crunch crunch crunch through huge machines.
Science is reborn!

http://twitter.com/cern (Henning notes that inside the 10 minutes around the first collision, CERN on twitter gained 4000+ followers)
http://webcast.cern.ch/lhcfirstphysics/ (the main webcast is really slow right now due to high demand ;))

At around 13:00 today (Geneva time), the LHC recorded its first collisions at 7TeV!
Happy physicists

Pretty events
Woohoo, us!


around the lake

Endlessly turning
Wheels and pedals, pass the road
On to lake and sky.

So today I am making a concerted effort not to move, as much as that's possible. Victor and I went on a pretty fracking intensive bike ride yesterday: Map My Ride

For those of you playing along at home, that's 166km that I made it. He gave up, actually, sometime around 130km and called his girlfriend to come pick him up (from Genève! She was pissed.), which was great for me because he gave me a call when I was just getting most hopeless and tired and cold and wet in the dark, French countryside. So neither of us made it the full 180km that we had been hoping for, but I'm damn proud of myself for making it 166 with so little training.

So the day started out with some clouds and coolness from my apartment in Genève. As we got down to the lake and started riding along past Versoix, the clouds broke and we were treated to a day sunny and warm enough that I stripped down to the swimsuit top I was wearing under my jacket and shirt. As we stopped to change and apply sunscreen, the only comment we got was from an ancient woman who yelled out her window, "Ay, ay, ay!"

We passed wineries and heaven-sent water fountains. Switzerland's amazing like that: practically the entire country is known for sparkling, clean water, and there are loads of random outdoor fountains that spout it. That was basically the reasoning behind each of our stops (we elected to do 5-10 min each hour, plus an hour for lunch (agh, slow service)): we were thirsty and saw refreshment staring at us from beside the road.

As the day continued to be clear, we were treated to fabulous views of the mountains across the lake, wreathed in clouds. In Lausanne we passed the International Olympic Headquarters, which was a surprise to both of us. I had no idea it was there. It gave us some sort of value as athletes, though, I guess. ;)

Some of the bike paths in the stretch between Versoix and just past Lausanne were insidious. The highway always had a dedicated bike lane on it, but signs pointed to the "bike path." Trustingly, we decided to follow these signs, but one led us on a (fairly short, but still irksome) loop which just tied back to the main road with the additional need to climb a steep hill to join back up, and one led us far up a slope through winefields. I spent my fair share of time cursing on that one.

For lunch we stopped at a cute pizza place by the shore that had pizzas named after famous people/things/groups. I had a George Clooney, but also offered were Barack Obama, Silvio Berlusconi, Lady Gaga, Manchester United, the Lausanne Marathon... Dark clouds moved in as we stuffed ourselves with calories.

After lunch, the weather sort of went downhill. It dropped a good 5 degrees (C, so 10F or so) while we were inside, and it started drizzling. That didn't keep us from enjoying the views in Montreux (called the Swiss Riviera by some: it has one of the few casinos in Switzerland, and a gorgeous riverwalk lined by... palm trees?), but it did certainly make Victor toy with the idea of giving up then. There aren't trains on the south side of the lake: once you get into France, one place is just not nearly as well connected to the next. He stuck with it, though.

Maybe my favourite part of the bike trails that we took was right after leaving Montreux. The bike sign (the very sort that had led us astray previously!) pointed down a wooded, muddy trail, at the head of which we basically had to get up to speed, pull our feet on top of the bike as much as possible, and pray we made it to the other side of a fairly deep (10cm or so) and rather long (at least 10m) mud puddle draped all across the road. I announced with anger and frustration that it was the worst bike path ever, but was soon showed to be wrong when the sun started breaking through the clouds again and we passed through fields and fields of gorgeous, bending grasses swaying in the wind off the lake. We met people walking dogs, riding horses... and then we found a llama farm! It was awesome. :D

Shortly thereafter, we passed into France. France is not nearly so friendly to cyclists as Switzerland is, as evinced by their decided lack of watering stations and their total ignorance of bike lanes on roads (Victor and I had several near-death experiences along the way!).

The day wore on, and Victor was wearing out. At Evian (yes, the bottled water Mecca!), he decided to throw in the towel and handed me the backpack o' stuff. He called his girlfriend and waited for her to show up.

It was disheartening to lose my cycling partner, but I kept on going for around 30 km more. There's not much to say about this stretch: it was turning to dusk and, soon, night, and the shortest way around that part of the lake was to not follow the lake at all. Losing sight of that landmark that had been with me all day was another blow to my drive.

Eventually, as true night fell and the rain picked up and the temperature dropped, I was getting more and more desperate to see anything. Long stretches of the French highways lacked streetlights and towns, and after lots of lonely stretches like this, I made it across the border back into Switzerland. Geneva was only another 12km or so away, but I simply couldn't do it. Victor rang me (fortunate, since I had used up the last of my phone's credit a couple hours previously to get a pep talk from Evan) and offered me a ride back to the city with him and his girlfriend, who had finally made it to where he had stopped.

I guess the main lessons of this ride are that proper gear is essential: Victor came in just a t-shirt and was miserable as the drizzle began coating anything exposed. He stopped to buy a jacket in the first border town. Also, he was riding a foldable commuter bike which had a few problems. The seat was not designed for long rides and the pedal diameter was quite small, this in conjunction with the fact that it had only 6 gears meant that I spent a lot of time waiting for him at the tops of long climbs and at the bottoms of steep hills. My bike was better, but the brakes were rubbing and the chain was not quite correctly adjusted. It also sports hybrid tyres instead of road tyres, and this made a pretty sizeable difference. More contact with the road means more work on every pedalstroke.

We had the curious problem that neither of us was thirsty on the trip. Victor took this to mean that it was cool enough that his body didn't need to sweat so much, but I took it to mean that my body was confused, and I wound up drinking about three times as much water as I usually do. We could've brought better snacks, as well: our snacks for the whole day consisted of one chocolate bar each, two apples each, half a baguette each and half a block of gruyère each, and a bit of salty licorice. We also had pizzas at lunch, which actually neither of us managed to finish despite the fact that we'd spent the whole morning burning calories like nobody's business.

I think that this trip will be in reach once I get a better bike. As a scenic tour, it was fantastic, at least until we entered France (which is significantly more run down than Switzerland due to the distribution of wealth there). If I were to do it again, I think I would go the other way around the lake in order to have trains available as an out in the case that I find myself too tired to continue.

Still, I'm damn proud. :)

And then we went to a dinner party at a coworker's house. I have to guess that we were the worst party guests ever, based on the fact that we were about 1.8 seconds from collapsing at any time. A couple cappuccinos and a delicious dinner later, though, I was feeling more up to myself. I did wake up at a puzzling 9am today (even more puzzling since DST just went into effect in Europe last night, so that 9am was like a normal 8am), but I assure you that I've no plans of stirring from my house today. Hell, I almost decided it wasn't worth it to move to my kitchen to get food. My legs and lungs are sore for obvious reasons, but my arms are also sore from all the times that I stopped to push my bike up a hill that was too steep. That thing is heavy!



ada lovelace day!

Just one long ago,
Placed correctly... yes, just so!
Makes all the diff'rence.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day!  That means that this blog post is to be dedicated to my tech heroine.

And who's that?

It's gotta be Sarah Loos.

When I got to college, I was floundering around with no particular plan in mind: try some of this, try some of that... throw enough spaghetti and one strand's bound to stick.  Anyway, I guess I accidentally wound up sticking to her.  She's also a mathematics and CS major (though she started in math and branched to CS, while I went the other way), and she's super involved in all the things that I found myself getting involved in, too: Women In Computing, Math Club, peer tutoring, etc., etc.

I mean, I'm always one to "hang with the boys" or whatever, but I don't know what I would've done if Sarah hadn't moved out to California to work at Google when I did.  It was helpful to have a familiar and supportive face out in the sea of random, scary Canadians (hi, guys).  She introduced me to a number of professors who wound up being influential during my stay at IU, and she convinced me to more or less follow in her footsteps through IU in several respects.  Really in almost any IUCS activity I can think of she was there to introduce me to people and provide backup socialisation if I had a hard time connecting with anyone.

She powered through all that sort of stuff without me, though.  We've talked about how she had (next to) no girls in her classes after the introductory level of CS, and she seems to have turned out alright.  She was part of the pilot of an all-female peer tutoring programme for the introductory CS course at IU.  Making women in tech visible and empowered is definitely deep in her psyche somewhere.

And now she's doing a PhD in CS at Carnegie Mellon University.  If that doesn't mean much to you, I'll just say that it's damn impressive.  Yay, Sarah.  :)



Shck!  Shck!  Shck!  Feathers!
Protruding in awkward checks
From cork in strange colour.

I got a new high score in darts this morning!

Triple 20 + triple 19 + (almost triple and in fact just 5mm away from it but single) 17 = 134!


It's not the high score for the office, though... that belongs to Henning and Sergio: they are tied at 140.


bloody adventurous

Crimson slime flowing,
Sanitation optional,
Just use a Band-Aid.

Today marked my donation of blood in the city where the Red Cross was born: Geneva!

I have to say that the blood donation process here in Europe is a bit different, however. Let's do a quick runthrough:

American system:

  • Arrive
  • Sign in
  • Read (or don't read, but tell them you've read) a binder of approximately 12 pages describing risks of blood donation, medications you can't be taking, countries you can't have visited, diseases you can't have had, the fact that you can't be homosexual, the fact that you can't have had sex with a homosexual, body modifications you can't have had in the last year (bone grafts, tattoos, piercings, what have you)
  • Wait
  • Sign in with your name, birth date, and SSN
  • Get called up to answer a series of 40-ish computer questions that are basically everything that was covered in the binder
  • Confirm with your name, birth date, and SSN that you are, in fact, the same person who sat down
  • Have your blood pressure taken
  • Have your iron measured
  • Confirm, again, that you are who you say you are
  • Get handed some blood bags with your name and birth date and SSN on them
  • Walk over to the blood donation tables
  • Confirm, again, that these bags are, indeed, your own
  • Lie down on the table
  • Have your vein checked and outlined in magic marker
  • Have your needle site cleaned for no less than 30 seconds by betadine
  • Have your needle site cleaned for no less than 10 seconds by iodine
  • Get stuck
  • Have the needle covered by a piece of gauze so you don't freak out
  • Bleed for a while
  • Watch the blood bag, which is attached to a little lever that will drop when it is heavy enough (i.e. full)
  • Get unplugged
  • Get bandaged
  • Eat little snacks like raisins and pre-packaged cookies
  • Be forced to remove your bandage lest you forget it and it cut off circulation to your arm
  • Be given a paper about the possible side-effects of blood donation
  • Be given a paper with your whole blood number in case you have questions
In Europe, though:
  • Arrive
  • Sign in with a questionnaire of about 40 questions covering questions from the tattoo and piercing questions to whether you've been outside Europe in the past 6 months
  • Have your iron measured
  • Have your blood pressure taken
  • Walk over to the blood donation chairs
  • Sit down in a chair
  • Have your vein checked
  • Have your vein briefly cleaned by some unknown substance
  • Get stuck
  • Bleed for a while
  • Watch the blood bag, which is sitting on a little rocking scale which will beep when it's heavy enough (i.e. full)
  • Get unplugged
  • Get bandaged
  • Eat awesome snacks like fresh apple pie and croissants and brownies and have tea and coffee and juice and lemonade and gatorade
That's it.  Yum.

A few things concerned me, though.  No one wears gloves in Europe?  Victor pointed out that they washed their hands in alcohol, but... latex just makes me happier.  Eep.

They had the jankest Band-Aids in the world.  Instead of little individual ones for each person, they'd just got a big one that they cut up to the appropriate size for each person.

On the other hand, it felt like a much more grown up system.  They weren't babying anyone by putting a piece of gauze on his needle so he wouldn't see it, for example.  They didn't ask me every 2 minutes if I remained the same person.  They didn't warn me about what I shouldn't do when I left, because they recognised that I'm a reasonable person (and that I'm living in a place which is not particularly litigious for this sort of thing).

I dunno.  For your judgement.


on food

The sun shines, sweaters
Come off, snow sneaks up mountains,
Quietly, grass grows.

While I spent all last week complaining about how cold it was, I totally failed to notice buds poking our along tree limbs and the fluffy white stuff receding up into the glacial Alp-tops. Today it cracked 11C (52F)!

I also found some pretty terrific haikus on the subject of Godzilla.

But that isn't what I want to talk about! I want to talk about food.

I slipped out of work a little earlier than usual today (it's totally fair: I also got there a little earlier, too ;)) to enjoy the nice weather and take a short shopping trip. I love buying food in Europe. I bought the ugliest button mushrooms (just those regular ones) ever, but do you know they tasted fantastic. The bag of potatoes I bought contains dirt. The eggs I bought are a mix of white and brown. The peppers are malformed.

No one cares what produce looks like here. It's not nearly so treated as the stuff in the US, where we have to beg people not to buy instant dinners or minute rice or whatever. People actually eat this stuff here! Who'd've thought? And actually natural food is pretty damn delicious!

When you go to a restaurant in Switzerland (I don't know which other countries it is this way), everything on the menu has an origin. True, sometimes you get things to the effect of "Pork from Switzerland or Italy or France or Germany," but in general the concept is sound.

Labels are all less cryptic. In the states we have demarcations ranging from "Organic" to "Grass-fed" to "Hormone-free," and no one has any idea what they mean (if anything). A lot of these labels don't have any formal standards associated with them, much less enforced. In Europe it's pretty fair to assume that most animals are treated reasonably (there just isn't as much money to be made in cramming them together. Subsidies and the like are much rarer here too: fields lie fallow in off-years as opposed to being pumped full of chemicals and planted crop-rotation style.), but the label "Bio" means that you needn't doubt it.

Anyway, I guess I'm going to go back to my laundry and cooking. I'm in the midst of preparing cabbage and potatoes (no corned beef, alas) for my St. Patty's lunch tomorrow. Mmmmmmmmmmm, tradition.


cs barbie

Sporting a bin'ry
Shirt, cool shoes, Barbie again
Will take it by FORCE.

You might have heard, but Barbie's new career is to be a computer engineer. This was decided via online poll (which sort of skews it automatically towards CS, don't you think?) around a month ago. We just had an amusing chat about it today, though, which I wanted to share part of. :)

From Mashable (via MAKE magazine):

While some have embraced Coder Barbie, others have attacked the concept, saying that her pink laptop, sparkly leggings, and trendy glasses are "too feminine" to be realistic.

The critics imply that real coders aren't feminine, and feminine coders aren't real. But women shouldn't feel like they have to stop being feminine to work in technology.

Joe, in response, comments that he has been wondering for years how Barbie could afford the cars and the Barbie Dream Home and the trophy boyfriend...

Well now it's obvious. She needs a job where she has lots of free time, makes shitloads of money, and cares so little for the opinions of her friends and neighbours that she can make everything pink. She's either in computer engineering or porn. Or both.


seeing (and not seeing) the sights

Drifting past churches,
Faithful, faithless, wind, and snow,
Zürich's slow pulse throbs.

First, I want to welcome Mr. Joe Blaylock to Switzerland. Woooooooooo!

Somehow I never made it to the capital city when I was living in Darmstadt last summer, and somehow it also took me almost two full months to make it this time, despite the fact that it's just a 3 hour train ride away. Maybe it's the fact that everything there is a half-order of magnitude more expensive than anyplace else in Switzerland... ;______; But, in any case, I did go to Zürich this weekend!

Zürich is in the northeast-ish part of Switzerland. It has a population of around 300,000 people, depending how you count, and it is the namesake of its canton. They like to tell everyone that they have the cleanest water in the world, and they have some 1200 public drinking fountains (by "public drinking fountain" I mean "elaborate fountain in public whose water is drinkable and not grungy like the water in public fountains elsewhere") scattered around to show it off. Zürich was one of two self-governed little regions in modern-day Switzerland that was basically neutral all through history, except that they did take sides in the Catholic/Reform battle eventually. Now, though, religion is not a big part of life there except that it makes the architecture more gorgeous for tourists.

As a city, Zürich was mostly what I expected. Like Geneva, it's situated on its own lake. Unlike Geneva, when I woke up there yesterday morning there was 10cm of snow on the ground, and more was still falling. It's March. One thing that I also didn't expect about it was how small it is. I accidentally happened upon 4 of the (semi-obscure) places I'd intended to visit just wandering around.

The requisite churches around town were pretty cool; the only one that I actually went in was the Grossmünster. It's along one of the rivers, and it had THE BEST WINDOWS. They weren't stained glass: instead they were thin slices of geodes connected together. It was an awesome effect.

The Bahnhofstrasse in Zürich is renowned for being supremely expensive. It leads from the Hauptbahnhof to the lake, and it's lined with every designer label I could think of, plus a couple dozen more. On Saturday, it was too cold to be outside for very long at a time (I was dumb and decided that Zürich would be a lot like Genève weather-wise... so not true, and all I brought was a medium-weight coat), so I shopped. And by that I mean that I tried on lots of things that I had no intention of buying just because they were super fashionable and -expensive. I tried on a scarf that was $400. I tried on a trenchcoat that was $1700. I tried on $800 dresses. Life is sweet.

I attempted to visit the zoo, which is supposed to be pretty good as zoos go, but I was blinded by blowing snow and settled for a walk through the nearby cemetery instead. Cemeteries covered in snow still clean of footprints are super creepy. I don't know what I'd've done if I'd seen a set of tracks that... only went out... DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN.

I tried to visit the Chinese gardens along the lake, but they are sadly not open until the end of March. The university's botanical gardens, though, were open, and I wandered through them for a while. And a friend of a friend suggested a place called "Cakefriends" where they serve, unsurprisingly, cake. I had lemon pistachio; it was delicious! Near that area there was an exceedingly strange shop, though. It had three pairs of flags: two American flags, two Canadian flags, and two Californian flags. The awning read "Papa John's American Restaurant and Caribbean Bar." What?

I also visited the very cool Landesmuseum, just behind the train station. I didn't know a lot about the history of Switzerland or Zürich before, but this place had it all. It's kept inside what was obviously an old castle of some variety (if the museum said anything about the castle, I must've missed it), and it's twisty and turny and awesome. Clearly the exhibits have been populated in stages: at the front of the museum, everything is in German and French on the walls, and there are cards with English and Italian on them. Further back, the English cards disappear and the Italian appears on the walls. Then the Italian disappears. Moving on, there's nothing but German labelling ancient weaponry and furniture from the Renaissance era. My languages got a workout. But did you know that Switzerland didn't have nationwide women's suffrage until 1990???????

I think my favourite thing about the trip, though, was dinner at Blindekuh. It's a restaurant staffed entirely by blind people where you dine in the dark. As in 0 light. To get to your table, the servers have you put your hands on their shoulders and lead you through the dining room. They tell you that your glass is on the right at the top, your fork is on the left, and your knife is on the right. When they bring you anything, they tell you where they've put it relative to you. Eating penne without being able to see it is a challenge, I assure you. On the plus side, table manners are totally a moot point, and I happily licked all the cream off my chocolate cake plate, knowing that it would not bother any of the other diners. It's not like I'll ever see them again, anyway. Or that I ever saw them in the first place. :)

It was a pretty relaxed weekend, I guess. I went out to the clubs with some Finnish guys, but other than that it was a lot of just exploring. Probably it had something to do with the fact that Saturday found everything buried in snow and lost from sight if it was more than 200m away (blowing snow == no fun). Sunday everything is closed, but it was a lovely day, anyway. Maybe next time I find myself in Zürich it will be during summer when I can have epic adventures on the lake. :D


darmstadtery & the like

Xynthia's blowin'
My kite up in the sky, now
Push the big button!

The LHC is go, my friends!  And any time you want to know, just check out lhcportal.com or meltronx.com.  They've got the lowdown.

Today I got a tour of CERN's Control Centre, which is located in a big room on the secondary campus.  There are 4 "islands" where people control every accelerator at CERN, and there are a lot of accelerators.  There's a map on the wall in the conference room that shows how they're all hooked together.

Fun things:

  • The LHC runs a "beam" which is comprised of 2800 smaller beams
  • Each small beam is 20cm long and has 10¹¹ particles in it
  • There are 3 metres between beams
  • The magnets that steer the beams are kept at 1.7K (that's -271.3C or -456.34F... damn cold)
  • It takes 4-6 weeks to warm the magnets up or cool them down for repairs and stuff
  • The LHC tunnel is 27km long, 100m underground
    • It was previously used for an accelerator called LEP
  • The guys who maintain the physical equipment like to get around underground on bicycles
  • There is a big box with lots of red buttons in the control room
The dude who gave us our little tour knew what he was talking about, and I learned a lot from it.  :D  He also offered to lead tours of any friends who may show up, so if you guys are thinking of coming to Geneva any time before April...

Other than that, I had a weekend!  I went to good ol' Deutschland to spend it with Olex and Julius: my friends from my days at TU Darmstadt.  We went to a snowboarding and skiing tricks competition, ate food, drank beer, played Risk, played Left 4 Dead 2, cooked food, watched movies (Meet the Spartans, The Book of Eli), played Jugger, and flew a kite.  I also finally had an opportunity to upload more photos: you can see them in my Picasa album or on Facebook.

There was a huge windstorm this weekend: it's been named Xynthia, and I guess it killed several people in Western Europe (particularly France).  It also closed all the train stations in Hesse (the German state that Darmstadt is in) for about 15 hours, so instead of leaving on Sunday afternoon, I took a train at 6am on Monday.  Uuuggghhhhhhh... going to work with no sleep is the worst.  Flying a kite in gale-force winds is the best.

But that's nothing compared to the earthquake that happened in Chile, I guess.  8.8 on the Richter scale, and it shifted the earth's axis 8cm and shortened the day by 1.26 microseconds.  Sure, you won't have any occasion to notice those things, but Earth is flippin' big.  It's amazing that it managed that!

This week has a few things I'm excited about, too:
  • Pub Quiz yesterday!
  • CERN Control Centre tour today!
  • D&D tomorrow!  (Well, okay, it's some knockoff of D&D from Germany, but it is reputed to be just as fun :D)
  • Board games Friday!
  • Zürich Saturday/Sunday?  (Looking for anyone else who might want to go?)
  • Joe arrives on Sunday!
Hooray!  ^_____^


office wars

Trouble brews in alpine
Clouds, masking plants and flags and
Darts. What to do? Fight!

Due to the sometimes less-than-regular habits of locking and unlocking and leaving open of doors around here, room 3-1-021 has decided that we should set out to conquer any office which is open to our entry.  We also have (first version of) a flag now:

the computers represent, um, our computers (Henning, Victor, Roman, Piotr, I), the boxes are the LHC on/off button I mentioned, the snakey thing in the middle is Travis--our office plant--, and the concentric circles are the dartboard we have.  We decided that we should make a non-standard flag shape, and a regular pentagon suited us just fine.


cern mysteries

Particles! Bang, crash!
A silent spinning circle
Metres below me.

There are some weird things about CERN.

The silverware in our cafeteria is magnetised.

We have the Internet in a yellow tube.

There is a button in my office which is labelled "LHC on->* off->*".

The light in the main auditorium is actually two switches. One switch is flipped for the light to go on. The other is flipped for the light to go off. Either way, doesn't matter.

There is a floor design near Restaurant 1 which seems to represent the accelerators at CERN, but no one seems to know how: relative size? Shape? Connectedness?

Just try walking around there. Just try it. If there wasn't a big, thick, black line on the floor from the front door to practically my office, I'd never have a shot at getting to work.



Snow falls, melts hearts, sits,
In a city not feeling
Holiday magic.

Europe doesn't really celebrate Valentine's Day, except in those parts that are heavy importers of American culture. Genève is not one of those places. :)  But I got to frickin' celebrate!  One Mr. Evan Stratford ventured forth from the frozen hinterland of Canada to hang out with me for the week; I feel like a new person!

As silly as it sounds, I don't think I've been adjusting particularly well to Genève.  The fact that I don't speak German never really made anything awkward for me in Darmstadt (or anyplace else in Deutschland, for that matter), but here in la Suisse I feel horrendously guilty every time I fail to remember words or conjugations when speaking to someone.  It's even more horrible when I simply can't summon anything and have to revert to English and vague gestures.  They make me feel dirty.

Not only that, but this city isn't really a city at all: I think there are about 200,000 people living in Geneva proper, and a lot of them are, you know, foreign dignitaries and the like.  The home of the WHO and the UN and the Red Cross is liable to be filled with people "passing through."  Sucks to be a vagrant.

After this week, though, I realised that I have been adjusting better than I thought.  Evan and I never lacked for things to do, and we went out with friends and the like.  :D  I think he had a good time (I did).

A few things we did:

  • Skiing in France!  This just sort of has to happen.  He is a much more accomplished skier than I, and he taught me a few new things.  By that I mean he took me off-piste through knee-deep snow and a mogul field to commemorate my third day on skis.  I was a little piste off (haha, joke!) at him for part of it, where "part" includes all of the several, several minutes I spent on my ass or trying to get off it, but I am glad for the experience in the end.  We even got to watch the Olympic opening ceremonies from a ski lodge with delicious food.  Oh, and I broke a ski in half.  Didn't know that was possible.
  • Giant chess!  A traditional Swiss thing, I guess; Genève has giant chess boards all over one of the parks, and Evan said that the place he lived in Switzerland for 10 months (near Neuchâtel) had its share of them, too.  I also beat him in a game of chess for the first time ever.  ;)  Huzzah!
  • Movies!  There were a couple of film festivals happening this week: one at le CERN and one in Genève.  The one in Genève was the one that we went to, it's called Black Movie, and the film that we watched was a super strange art film about a Korean transvestite poisoned by polluted fruit.  Yup.  Art films.
  • Cooking!  Food is always an adventure when Mr. Stratford is around, and this time was no exception.  In addition to going out for fondue (you have to), we also cooked some delicious miso stew, some pasta sauce with fried leeks, lentil sauce/paste/stuff, and breakfast items.  Eating out costs approximately one's firstborn in this country, but groceries are really cheap.  I'm going to work on convincing myself to cook and bring my lunch to work more often.  :-/
  • Pub quiz!  Always an adventure, as you know!  We actually did terribly, but I'm going to blame that on the fact that there was a category featuring theme songs from old British tv shows and our team was made entirely of young Americans and Canadians.
  • Website design/farm research!  This was probably the most exciting thing, although not the most engaging thing at the time, I guess.  In honour of the 10,000km bike trip we are planning for later this year (see map!), we decided to set some time aside to plan.

    View Nostrovia! (Zdorovye!) in a larger map
    So some information about this trip:
    • 10,000 km (6200+ mi) from København to Istanbul, via Portugal and Southern Italy
    • All on bicycles!
    • 6 months: 14 May - Thanksgivingtime
    • We'll be staying in hostels, under a tent we're bringing, and on organic farms via the WWOOF programme (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming).  We're also looking for host families along the way, so if you know anyone who might not mind having a couple of crazy kids stay with him or her for a couple days later this year, please ping us!  So far we have arrangements (tentative) in Denmark, Hamburg, the south coast of Spain, Croatia, possibly Athens, and Istanbul.  There are still a lot of kilometres to cover!
    • Venus is coming for part of it!  The plan is Spain for her, para que ella practique su español.
    • Evan's brother Neil is coming for part of it!  I don't know any more than that.
    • We are dedicating it to the Green Movement; the bikes and organic farms and such all sort of tie into this.
    We are currently looking for sponsors/donors to help get equipment and places to stay along the way.  We don't have any of our real equipment yet, afaik, so we are looking for bikes, a tent, electronics (camera, something to mount the camera to the bikes, cheap netbook, some sort of connection card for European 3G networks, etc.), and jerseys/bike shorts/bike socks/etc.
    If you know anyone who might be able to help, please tell me!  :D  Also, we don't have a name, and if you can come up with one that sounds reasonable and ties in the green theme, our tech-y nerdiness, the epicness of the trip, and all that, well.... let me know about that, too.
Anyway, I guess that basically sums up his visit here.  I have to get ready to go out for CHINESE KARAOKE tonight, so I'm wrapping this up.  :)

Have a pleasant day, y'all.



Everyone loves snow!
Now, see it on the Google,
Just like everything.

Google added ski pistes to their streetview???

That's awesome.


Slow rain becomes snow,
And a quiet outside finds
Its way in. Look up.

I've been through most of Geneva's moods by now, or so I think I have. Today has been on the verge of freezing all day, bouncing just enough to keep one guessing whether it will be raining or snowing from one moment to the next. Half of everyone is skiing, and the other half trudges through the beginnings of slush to visit grocery stores or malls. It's quiet around here.

As of this morning, I am officially moved into my NEW APARTMENT. Yes, that's right! I now have a real, permanent address (for the rest of my time here, anyway):

14 Rue Jean Dassier 1er étage
1201 Genève

Please write!

How long since the last blog post... oh, I guess that photo post doesn't count. Well then. There's news, I suppose.

I am now deeply mired in my project for CERN. I guess I didn't mention what the topic was before (and I spouted something about NDAs), but every person from CERN or elsewhere who has read my blog chided me for being so corporate. There are no NDAs here.

So I mentioned previously what INSPIRE is, and that I am working on that. More specifically, what I am doing is writing an image search for INSPIRE; something that will crawl through physics papers, grab the charts and plots in them, and make those same charts and plots searchable. I think it will ulitmately live someplace like images.inspirehep.net or so. I mean, it will live there once it's done and the INSPIRE beta is released. ;) We're hopefully going to release it this weekend or next week, so stay tuned!

I am learning French through a series of frustrating and embarrassing situations. Today I went to rent a snowboard (I'm going snowboarding tomorrow! wooo!) at a store called Athleticum, where all the shirt logos, signage, and fliers are in English. I timidly asked the man at the rental desk, "Parlez-vous anglais?", at which point he glared at me, said, "Non," and turned to the next customer. The next guy did speak English, and he took pity on me and kindly asked the salesman to help me first. Although I don't really have grammar still, my vocabulary is building steadily, and I managed to navigate the ensuing conversation about snowboard sizes and foot placements and insurances and policies rather reasonably.

Not to mention the other two people who I'm living with in this apartment don't speak any English. What an adventure this will be! I took some photos around the apartment today, but I'm afraid I won't be posting them until after I find someone with an xD card reader again.

Oh, I'm officially a member of the French Skiing Federation now. Hahaha. It's a rule for the CERN ski club that you have to be a member of this other thing, which is reasonable because it provides insurance for skiing or snowboarding (in French, snowboard the noun is "snowboard" but snowboard the verb is "surf (de niege)") accidents. That's probably something I should have. ;)

I guess I should babble about my apartment (jeez, this blog post is jumping all over the place) for a bit here: I love it a lot! It's right near the main train station--Gare Cornavin--, which makes it nice for going, well, anywhere in Genève. Also anywhere in general: I don't know if I mentioned before, but Genève is a big hub for EasyJet, which, along with RyanAir, is one of Europe's notoriously cheap airlines. The airport is about 7 minutes from my apartment by train.

This place is in an old building, along with damn near everything in Europe, and it's really lovely. My room has a window that looks out on what seems to be a fake courtyard in the middle of a bunch of buildings. I know there are offices across the street because Thursday when I woke up (I was staying with my friend Nicos, who lives just down the street and on the same side of the building as I do) I realised I had left the window open and could see a bunch of suited business-types at a long table for a meeting while I looked just exactly as though I had just gotten out of bed.

There's even a balcony off the living room! The living room itself has a little fireplace, and its walls are lined with bookcases filled with ancient volumes. There are decorations everywhere; on my wall is a tapestry of an African village, the overhead light in my room is a Chinese paper lantern, there are masks and flowers along the hallway... it's adorable. ADORABLE. And only 600CHF/month; apartments in Genève run from (apparently) 600CHF/month to 2500CHF/month (that would be a studio apartment, probably with no frills) to well upwards of that (for something super fancy). I got super lucky on that one.

Last night I went out with one of the girls (Jenni) from my group and a bunch of her friends. She's Finnish, and they all were, too. I guess the point I'm making there is that I was introduced as Walküre. We went to a club in Meyrin (Meyrin is a suburb of Genève and where CERN is located) called UnderTown to see a performance sponsored by the CERN Music Club. I have seen my share of theoretical math raps before, but I'd never seen a theoretical physics rap. Almost all the performers were CERN people, but they rocked it out. One group played Take Me Home by Guns n' Roses, another played Chemicals by, uh, someone who isn't Guns n' Roses, and, well, they generally covered a lot of fun songs. The second group that played, though, was a bunch of kids--I'd guess early high school--who seemed to have written a lot of their own stuff. They did
metal in French. French, as you may know, is a very smooth and light language, and it does not really lend itself well to being screamed.

Next week, I am going to spend some time entertaining Evan on his visit here. :) I haven't really figured out what it is that we'll do yet, but... I'm reasonably sure it will involve skiing or surfing at least a little bit. :D Maybe I'll be passable at that by the time I head home.

In the meantime, I have some things to do before I head out to Nicos's going away party this evening. Like find internet. Unfortunately, the password (mot de passe) that Mme. Maret has for her WiFi doesn't seem to work. She's going to call the guy who set it up to come 'round tomorrow and see if he can get me online, but in the meantime I'll probably just trek back to Nicos's apartment, since I still have the key for it, anyway.

Oh, did I mention? I think one of the things I am most excited about in this new apartment is the fact that I have finally gotten to hang up my Goats in Trees calendar. THANK YOU ZACH JAKUBIAK.


photos are up!

Wandering around
Switzerland brings photo ops
Galore. And Skiing?


hourly comic day continues

0,0: "Gmail:/ from: CERN woman/ subj: New card waiting for you!/ Please come pick up your Swiss card and apply for your French card!" and "Damn!  How many cards do I friggin' need?"
0,1: "Snow, you guys!" (me) and "Blah blah I don't like snow" (that was Victor, and he is Norwegian, which might be an excuse) and "I am leaving early because no one can drive in snow here" (my boss)
1,0: "These are good but that is not what I was listening to." (Victor, Henning, and Piotr) and "(holding one headphone out)" (by Victor's head) and "I would give you my headphones, but you stole my chair" (Roman)
1,1: "CERN Restaurant 1" and "excited for Pub Quiz!" and "not sure what to draw!" and "meta comic" and "done with work!  still @ CERN..."
2,0: "(public transit is the best)" and "What is that?" and "Is it hourly comic time?" and "You should draw some reptiles to get in the mood" and "(on the way to pub quiz!  category: reptiles)"
2,1: "TMNT!" and "(shush, I am on a train drawing)"
0,0: "A pitcher doesn't even fill 4 glasses??" and "empty" (pointing to my glass and the pitcher) and "Jahred's glass" and "Zach's glass" and "Dominick's glass" and "my glass"
0,1: "Meals ready 167 169" and "C'mon, 170!"and "How long does flippin' fish n' chips take?"
1,0: "What snake is Great Britain's only poisonous reptile?" and "HAW HAW" and "THE QUEEN :)" (on the paper)
1,1: "empty"
2,0: "no. of questions correct" and "no. of beers drunk" and "Ballmer peak"
2,1: "HIC" and "I'm wasted and Chinese. ~Kurt" (he wrote that, not me)

0,0: "Category: Murder & Murderers" and "Put Jack Bauer!" and "Put Charles Manson!" and "Put whatever  you want!"
0,1: "More Beer?"
1,0: "Baby Jesi NO WIN/Other team WIN/Other team WIN/Other team NO WIN/Other team NO WIN" and "...we earned 50%?"
1,1: "We lost..."

So, disclaimer about those last panels... we had had... umm... a few pitchers of beer.  My artistic skills sort of went by the wayside (as did my ability to produce coherent humour).

hourly comic day

For those of you who might not know, Hourly Comic Day is 1 February.  Some people like to do this sort of thing.  I figured I'd try it this year.

In case they are impossible to read...
0,0: "Oh, shit.  It's hourly comic day." (me) and "Google Reader, HOURLY COMIC!" (screen)
0,1: "What the hell is that?" and "What if it takes 2 hours to draw?" and "Not many people seem to do this." and "Coffee?" and "Okay."
1,0: "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." (me) and "You really have to say that every day?" (Henning) and "American coffee + culture lesson" (bottom)
1,1: "Your passport is like a picture book!" and "Oooh!  Is that a story on top?" and "Why's there RFID in that?"
2,0: "Don't forget to bring your comic to lunch." (Piotr) and "I will just do with when I get back." (me) and "That's not very hourly." (Piotr)
2,1: "I just spent $16 on this salad and sandwich." (me) and "Welcome to Switzerland." and "Coffee?" and "We code like girls and are proud of it!" (my shirt)

Again, in case...
0,0: valkyrie@asgard:~src/cds-invenio/modules$ git commit -a -m 'tarball harvester works and the extract plots thing has been modified to be more robust in the case of friggin pathological brace placement'
0,1: "Yup that is actually all I did" (me)
1,0: "Rock Musik - Victor", "Rock Musik - Henning", "Rock Musik - Piotr", "Classical - Roman"
1,1: "earbud cord" (with arrow) and "It is okay, Travis plant.  I do not have headphones, either." (me)
2,0: "My life is boring.  I have done nothing to write about this hour." (me)
2,1: "DARTS" and "I am bad" (pointing at the scattered darts) and "We have one in our office" (pointing at the dart board wall)



Harmonizing in
Their spires, St. Pierre's great bells
Call in the faithful.

I guess there's no such thing as sleeping past 10 on Sunday when you live across the street from a Cathedral.  I do really love the sound of the bells, though... it makes me miss Bloomington.  :(


work is play

Sitting down, sifting
Through, sending chats, emails, too,
Work is play.  It's true.

The European work ethic is not a joke.  We really do take a full hour (sometimes more!  gasp!) for lunch, with coffee breaks of half an hour or so in both morning and afternoon.  We arrive at 9 or 9:30 and leave at 5:30 or 6.  My first week, I would come in to an empty office at 8:30 and sit by myself for an hour before anyone else arrived, and they were all convinced that I was a crazy, workaholic American.  I wonder why we condition ourselves that way in the states?  It varies from industry to industry, too.  I know at Google we had a really great environment that encouraged people to be happy... and to stay as long as possible at the office, working.  I was on campus for more than 14 hours some days; after work, why not just stay for Frisbee, dinner, pool, a movie, and some Rock Band?  It was especially tempting for interns: we didn't have apartments that were furnished in particular, and getting to the City took an hour, so...

But the atmosphere at work is amazing for other reasons, too!  Maybe it's just because I'm new here and haven't had the chance to make many other friends, but the people I work with are definitely more than just "the people I work with."  We go skiing on the weekends, out to shows (we went to see "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde last night, which I highly recommend!), out for drinks, etc.  This weekend some of the guys are having a LAN party.  I get to talk to Joe a lot of days.  His boss takes him rock climbing, and keeps tabs on my apartment search (which, I do believe, is at an end now, finally).  We spent an afternoon building a snowman and having a snowball fight when CERN was buried under inches of the fluffy white stuff.

I guess I think the best work comes from happy people.  There's no shortage of intellectual stimulation; hell, the tables at Restaurant 1 are covered in visualisations of results from some of the experiments (ISOLDE, etc.).  There's a club for nearly everything: skiing, ballroom dancing, boxing, scuba, tai chi... dang.  Everyone uses personal email and work email interchangeably for communication; we sit in chatrooms with our GMail accounts and send event invites from our CERN accounts and... well, heaven only knows.

Well, in other news.... what.... I have an apartment to live in (14 Rue Jean Dassier, 1er étage), which I will be signing for tomorrow, assuming that I can acquire a legal paper that states that I am a Good Person.  That's kind of weird, but it's fine, I guess.  Today I'm planning to get a tour of the UN if I can: my roommate right now is a UN intern working at the German consulate.  Pretty awesome.

Still working on that camera thing.  It's really a shame that xD is incompatible with Linux.  I'll find someone with a Windows laptop and a card reader as soon as I can... eeps.


living with nuns

Aging, hesitant
To hold cars, streets of Old Town
Wind through misty dawn.

So my housing search may finally be at an end: I discovered the amazing Home St. Pierre, an all-women's residence in the heart of Genève's Vielle Ville (Old Town).  I would definitely recommend that any female (between 18 and 30, I think, is the criterion) investigate it for long-term stays, as it's pretty cheap for a double (around 500CHF/month, and includes breakfast!), with a single running to about 750CHF/month for the rooms that are big and have views.  That's cheaper than most places around here, and you can't beat a place that's furnished, has free internet, provides breakfast and cleaning, blah blah blah, in the middle of the most gorgeous part of Genève and right across from the famous Cathedral St. Pierre.

I have to flex my writer muscles here for a second, because I really love this part of the city.

So far on this trip, I've only seen the Old Town at night or in half-dawn; it seems like a magical place that doesn't, perhaps, exist in full light.  Lost last night as I searched for the Cathedral, I chanced upon an impossible playground.  I'd found the edge of the Old Town, but the large balcony I was on seemed to drop only onto blackness.  There were basketball backboards with psychedelic artwork, wooden rocking horses, and a contraption like nothing I'd ever seen: a circle of connected bicycles, child-sized, built to rotate like a munchkin merry-go-round.

I entered my room tonight, threw my things on the floor, put my llama in place, and set out to explore.  Just down the hall from my door is one leading to an attic staircase.  This staircase leads, rather unsurprisingly, to an attic, where it appears girls are to dry their clothes during winter months as it is strewn with drying racks and the like.  A door in the attic leads to a terrace overlooking the lake and the city... everything.  The bells of St. Pierre's towers ring out over the city as they chime the 23rd hour.  It's snowing lightly.  It's probably bedtime.


hunting and gathering

Basking in the glow
Of SCIENCE, mes amis, one
Can stand to learn much.

So the whole someone-else-will-get-an-apartment-for-me thing seems to have fallen through, and I'm neck-deep in French and English websites, trying to find a damn room for four months.  If you know of anyone who is looking for a temporary roommate, do let me know.  Interesting fact: roughly 80% of the people who live in Switzerland rent their homes/apartments because it is so damn expensive to buy them.

I am learning more and more about CERN during my time here (surprise!).  There's a lecture tomorrow morning about the LHC that I'm thinking I'll go to.  The LHC is definitely off right now; my team and I were talking about it at lunch, and I guess just that machine draws 20% of Genève's power, so it is off until springtime when human beings don't need energy for doing things like... heating their houses.  What else... oh, yesterday I got to see CERN's server farm, including the backbone of the Internet (for this region of Switzerland)!  That's pretty sweet.  It's a bunch of fibre-optic cables in a really obnoxious yellow case.  There are huge cooling units in the room with all those servers, and one of my friends who works there said that if the cooling units go down the temperature can rise 1 degree Celsius per minute.  That's hot!

One of my lovely coworkers, Jan, has offered to lend me one of his bikes for the time I'm here.  I got to ride to the grocery store!  It's super fast!

I also got my first letter from home today.  Hoooooooray.  Seriously, y'all, feel free to send things to my desk.  Or, if you want a postcard from lovely, mountainous Suisse, send me your address.  :)


les alpes

Mountain peaks peek o'er
Seas of cirrus, flurries flit,
Stirring up skiers.

I am a "skier" now!  Well, kind of.  I tried it out yesterday--at a place called Flaine in France--for the first time, and it didn't go nearly so badly as I'd expected it to.  I made it out without anything broken or sprained or bruised, and although there is no finesse to my style as yet, that'll surely come with practise.  Or something.

Anyway, I went with some friends from work.  Well, from fake-work.  I'm hanging out in a different (but related) department this week to learn a bit about the systems that the system I'll be helping built is going to be built on.  If that makes sense.  One of my friends (Nicos) is a snowboarder, and he was the one who was trying to peer pressure me into snowboarding instead of skiing earlier this week.  I did wind up skiing (since "Ski the Alps" is on my list, after all), along with my other friend, Javier.  They were all patient and wonderful and laughed at the right times when I fell down and helped me at the right times too.  Several sweet, old Frenchmen also paused their skiing to help the poor, stupid, mountain-retarded Midwestern girl to her feet.  The Pikachu hat was a hit.

Today I wandered Genève (after sleeping in and whining to myself about being sore for a few hours).  I still can't get friggin pictures off my camera, agh.  I did see a lot of stuff, though, including what was apparently the Old Swiss Man Sunday Chess and Smoking Club.  And would you believe that outdoor cafés are open now?  It rained and stuff yesterday (in Geneva, not up on the mountain; there it was gorgeous weather all day), and Geneva's snow plan worked!  It has certainly all cleared from the streets now.  It also felt a bit like spring, which weirded me out.  I walked around in just my t-shirt and jeans for a while.

Oh, jeez, what else... oh, when I got back to the hostel this evening, there was a crowd of girls cluttering the hallway.  There was a woman speaking to all of them in a British accent, and I was amused when she she said, "You girls crossing the street is what keeps me up at night.  They drive on the wrong side here!"  Oh, you UK people.



Gentle ringing can
Become harsh jangling, SPEND

I realised today that I have 23CHF worth of change in my pocket.  Guess what!  In Europe, coins can be spent... just like regular money.  In Switzerland, there're coins up to 5CHF.  Yeah.  You can spend that.


how much snow does it take to shut down a black hole?

We are serious
Scientists.  LOL, J/K.
We built a snowman!

First, thanks to Venus for the post title, and thanks to Nadège for the first part of the haiku.  And for the non-1337 among you: LOL and J/K.

Last night, CERN was buried under an additional 18 or so cm (that's 7"!) of wet, perfect, packable snow, which effectively closed the place down.  My boss didn't show up for work.  The cafeteria was empty at lunchtime.  The dudes on my team (those of them that showed up, anyway) and I spent some time this afternoon constructing a snowman and having a snowball fight.  We settled on teams of Northern Europe and US v. Southern Europe, but we discovered quickly that the southern Europeans were somewhat less cold tolerant.  Hahaha.

I also walked home in daylight today.  Well, near-daylight, anyway.  I could see the mountains in the distance, and, my, did they look fabulous.  Pinpricks of light were lined neatly along them, presumably following the roads, and everything was basked in twilight's purple-y glow.

I also finally got out for some exercise, gasp.  I jogged a few kilometres around the complex before realising that tennis shoes did not provide sufficient grip on ice-slick roads and coming home to do sit-ups (!) and push-ups (!).

Okay, I also have advice/info/comments for people who want to look savvy travelling in Europe.

  1. Bring assloads of passport-sized photos.  For whatever reason, every friggin card you want here (rail passes, work cards, blah blah blah) will require a passport-sized photo.  Or four.
  2. Beer is served in our cafeteria.  At lunchtime.
  3. Coffee breaks are key.
  4. The easiest thing to do (and this is in general, not just for Europe) with those stupid baggage tag stickers is to stick them on the back of your passport.  It seems like 25% of the times I fly now I have to change flights or something that requires the airline to check what's up with my bags.
  5. Carry a digital camera: when you don't have a printer or a fancy-schmancy iPhone, you can just take photos of on-screen directions and look at them later.
I'm sure there're others.  Uhhhh... I'll post them if I think of them.

I don't think there's any more snow in the forecast for now, but it's still pretty magical-looking out there.  Maybe tomorrow will bring another snowman.  Also, I have been talked into snowboarding instead of skiing this weekend, having been given the reason that skiing is "stuffy."  Since I'm not really awesome at snowboarding either... it's not a total loss.  ;)