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.  ;)


first impressions

The world machine whirs,
Spinning up, in a frenzy,
Crash, ye particles!

As far as I know, the LHC isn't actually working right now, but that's not really the point. Okay, here is time for my impressions from my first two days here!

I guess I should go with factual things first: yesterday started with my being shut out of CERN for poor planning. I guess I hadn't been entered in the database yet, so I had to beg a woman to look up the phone numbers of the people I needed to contact. I called them, but they were both busy for a little while, so I hung out in the CERN swag shop. If anyone's interested, there are some pretty cool CERN shirts for around $20 US.

After that, I met with my boss, Salvatore Mele. He's Italian, and super smart. I guess he's known since early high school that he wanted to work at CERN. He's also published on the order of 300 High-Energy Physics (HEP) papers. For those of you not familiar with "published," that means that he was involved in the experiments in some way, not that he necessarily did all the work himself. Some papers have 2,000+ authors, and often papers will list professors or superiors as authors when younger or more inexperienced students have written them in order to get more exposure for the papers. But, still, 300 is damn impressive.

I also met my team (Inspire) and saw my office. There's a dart board and a big plant (I'm not sure what kind yet, but it looks vaguely tropical, I guess) named Travis. Travis is Joe Blaylock (my friend from school who got me this job)'s boss at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in sunny California. I'm sharing with 4 grad students, and there are 4 more in the next room. They are from all over Europe, and hearing so many accents again is kind of fun. :)

I got a CERN id card, which has a photo of me looking very attractive and jetlaggedly exhausted. I now also have an official CERN email address: valkyrie (.dot.) arline (.dot.) savage (@at@) cern (.dot.) ch (sorry, I don't want to get spam for posting that thing). I was pretty excited to add myself to the CERN network on Facebook, hahaha.

Then I met my temporary team (Invenio), since I guess the guy I'm working with on the Inspire team (which they call "the library team" here, for some reason) is in India for another week or so. Invenio is one of the things that Inspire is building on; basically Inspire is a project aiming to combine Invenio and SPIRES and add some extra search functionalities.  I found out exactly what my project is going to be, and although I haven't had to sign an NDA (a fact which I suspect stems from CERN's seeming... lack of organisation), I think I'll not babble about it here on the interwebs.

There are like 13,000 "users" at CERN.  There are 3,000 or so permanent employees and 4,000 or so visitors at any given time, so this campus is HUGE.  It can easily take 30 minutes to walk from far end to far end.  It's also situated right on the border of France and Switzerland, so my hostel room and office are in Switzerland but my temporary office is in France.  That's sort of a weird thing to think about.  I guess I'm going to be living in Switzerland (in an apartment!  yay!) soon-ish.  The housing coordinator woman from IU told me it would probably take about 2 weeks to find something.  In the meantime, if any of you has an itch to send me mail, my desk is an okay place to send it:

Valkyrie Savage
CH1211 - Genève 23

Technically, my desk is 3-1-021, but I think it should make it with just that much address.

Now, impressions!  For being such a high-tech place, CERN is really low-tech.  I had to scavenge computer parts from abandoned machines just to have a workstation, which was sort of amusing, in its way.  A lot of the buildings seem to be afterthoughts (I guess this facility has been around for a really long time...), and the numbering system on the map is really screwy.  For instance, building 3 connects to buildings 4, 52, 53, 22, and 26.  Next door are buildings 304, 602, 100, 510, and 63.  I walk past building 2013 on my way to my office.

I'm probably going to die of radiation poisoning just for being here.  I was trying to discover some kind of short cut through the buildings between my hostel, which is on CERN property, and my temp office, and I ran into several dead endings at rooms marked RADIATION HAZARD.  So... that kinda sucks.  :)

Swiss people, as I mentioned, have no idea what to do about snow.  My boss almost drove instead of taking a 10 minute walk with me yesterday because he didn't want to walk through it.  He also informed me that Genève once had snow plows, etc., but gave them to another canton (kind of like Swiss states) when they stopped getting so much snow.  Now their plan for when it snows is... to wait until it rains.  Great.

Not much happens around CERN.  This hostel is full of visiting-professor-types, and once people go home for the evening--which tends to be early; Europe largely sticks to a traditional 8-5 workday, which makes this really unlike any other CS jobs I've had, i.e. Google where people usually come in at 10 and stay until... maybe 9--there's not much to do.  I am continually irritated by the fact that grocery stores close so damn early here, though today I learned that the closest one is within 45 minutes by walking of my room, so I could reasonably go there to procure calories when need be (as long as it's before 19:00).  I asked one of my temporary co-workers what he does after work, and his response was that... well... not much.  I guess that a lot of the grad students in this group are planning to go skiing this weekend, though, and they invited me to join them.  Hoorah!

There are multiple parts to meals here, even lunch.  I did not know this.  Apparently, one eats one's entrée, then moves to a different location for dessert, and another different location for coffee.  And by "coffee," I of course mean "espresso," since it seems no self-respecting Europeans take their coffees "long."

Now that I've had that little babble time, I guess it would be reasonable to wrap up this post.  Again, I hope to put up pictures soon, and also to post a permanent-ish address.




Half-sleeping, dreaming
A life. Silent snow settles
On (my) Switzerland.

Apologies for that sort of rushed blog post yesterday. Free Wi-Fi in Europe is not trivial to come upon, and I'm just not willing to pay for it very often. Even to get that connection required having a mobile phone to get an activation code... which meant making friends with random foreigners. It wasn't so bad, haha. Everyone is friendly when you meet them similarly stranded in a snow-bound airport at 02:00.

I wish I'd just taken the initiative to go into London yesterday, instead of camping around Heathrow. My flight LHR->GVA was delayed something like 3.5 hours due to a random snowdump that poured onto Europe. Everyone I've spoken with says that this is "the most snow we've seen in {20,25,30} years!" That seems okay in England, I guess, since they seemed to have 8 or so inches (I didn't actually make it outside to see, but that's what it looked like), and I don't really picture their getting snow so often. Switzerland, though, has a bit of a different story in my mind. The Geneva airport was delaying flights for up to 6 hours yesterday due to their winter work, but walking around today I saw no more than 7 inches of snow anyplace. This is the Alps, isn't it? Maybe Geneva really is more temperate than I'm giving it credit for. Someone told me that their average snowfall over a year is 30 feet, but I suspect that his conversion was just not quite right. There's no way they could get 30 feet in a year and be stumped by 6 inches at a time.

I've met a few great characters since my YOW post. I did like that British fellow who sat next to me on the YOW->LHR flight. He took a sleeping pill immediately upon seating himself, then spent the next 6 or so hours trying to watch the final 30 minutes of "Inglourious Basterds," which he utterly failed to do. One of my favourite thoughts about airlines is that they inspire such strangenesses: hot coffee all day perks travelers jetlagging West and free alcohol (I had some delicious scotch) sleep-shames the others on their Eastward trips.

Another pretty great set of people were the American family who were also heading Geneva-ward. I guess they've lived around these parts for a little while, at least, and their 8-year-old tried to teach me French in the boarding queue.

My best friend on this trip so far, though, has got to be my stuffed llama. We're buds.

Along the route I've seen some pretty amusing sights, as well. I had something resembling dinner (a fabulous veggie scramble with Earl Grey tea) during my time in Heathrow. It was behind security, but the silverware we were provided did include a knife. It was just entirely rounded, blunt, and useless. Go figure.

Swiss International Airlines has at least one plane that I suspect will never not make me smile. It was approximately the funniest thing ever when we all tromped out into the lightly blowing snow at midnight in England and were greeted by a plane bedecked with Swiss people herding cows and goats through the Alps. I laughed aloud. I guess no-one else did. Pah.

I'm hoping to score an address tomorrow. I'm actually waiting on a reply from my boss-to-be regarding exactly what I need to do in the morning. I'm checked in at a hostel right now, but I guess if I don't hear anything I'll just assume that I can find some hospitality among my new co-workers and drag all my junk to CERN on the tram tomorrow. I can always find someplace to sleep if worse comes to worst... like the airport. ;)

Ah, how I loathe cash economies. I forgot that about Europe this time, and I came here with $15 American and no recollection of my debit card's pin number. Hopefully I can survive with just a credit card until I get paid or get a hold of Bank of America somehow.

Oh! Fun fact about Switzerland: it's REALLY FRIGGIN EXPENSIVE. I was meandering around downtown today, admiring the snow, and I came across a McDonald's. Their Big Mac (here called a "Royale with Cheese", if you've seen "Pulp Fiction") was 9.80CHF, which is roughly $10 American. (Having a nearly 1-to-1 exchange rate makes budgeting a little bit simpler, hooray!) Sheesh.
I hope I don't starve over here. I guess I could always learn to lasso seagulls from the lake or something, haha.

Hmmm... there isn't so much to say. Sleeping on one's bags in an airport for scarcely two hours and then zombie-walking, foodless, around a city for a day doesn't really lend itself to curing jetlag. I got some rice stuff, and I think I'm going to go to bed pretty soon, although the hostel's promise of a movie showing tonight could keep me up for at least a couple more hours. A shower earlier today let me feel like a human again (believe me, wearing an outfit for 2.5 days straight is not the most comfortable, or the most pleasant-smelling, of ideas), and a two-hour nap in a proper bed helped a lot, too. We'll see what happens, I guess, as usual. :)

I've got to find a Windows or OSX box someplace that I can plug my camera into. Screw proprietary drivers, seriously. Maybe I just need to hack some of my own together. But photos soon, I promise.

landed it!

Snow pours, innocent,
Over the North.  Plane delays,
Jet lags... these are friends.

I've now finally landed in GVA, Geneva's airport.  It's roughly 2am in this time zone, and I don't really remember this city very clearly, so it looks like I'm going to camp out in an airport restaurant for tonight.  Sucks, yes, but it's probably the most reasonable option.

Yup, I guess that's it for now.  Flights are getting canceled all over Europe because of a snowdump.  My flight out of London was delayed something like 3.5 hours.  I can tell you that Heathrow gets very tiring when you've been there for 14 hours.  Blah.

It's..... naptime!  Goodnight, western hemisphere.