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)