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!  ^_____^