Archive for September, 2008

Sep 09 2008

“BIG BANG MACHINE COULD DESTROY EARTH” (tomorrow)

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That was the headline in the London Times awhile back, in reference to the very small possibility something catastrophic could happen when a particle accelerator like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is run. The LHC has its first run tomorrow (Wednesday, September 10th—I can’t figure out what time though; anyone know?) after 14 years, $9 billion dollars and recently, some death threats. Here’s CERN’s press release: “CERN reiterates safety of LHC on eve of first beam.” Stephen Hawking thinks they won’t find the Higgs Boson, which is the so-called “God particle” that they’re after.

The Boston Globe ran some AMAZING photos of CERN you have to go see. Here’s one:

If you didn’t know you were supposed to be worried about the world ending, The New Yorker ran a really interesting piece on CERN that explains how the London Times’ hysterical headline came about and has other interesting background on the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. Also, check Wikipedia.

And if you’re really procrastinating, check out Vatican Radio’s Coverage, CERN’s Big Bang.

Oh, and if the world does end, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Update: according to Le Matin, it all goes down at 9 in the morning, so 3 AM EST, 2 AM CST. Le Matin also had some sweet videos under the headline, ‘Vivez la “fin du monde” en direct sur le matin.ch’ (translation: ‘Experience the “end of the world” live on matin.ch’):

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Sep 09 2008

La Rentree

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We have returned from our summer joy and carefreeness to the grind of school and, for Seth, work in a school.  Well, I haven’t actually started class yet (that beings on Monday), but I did spend the last two days in Geneva struggling through the registration process.  Yesterday was particularly frustrating, as I waited for hours, and spent most of that time thoroughly confused.  Registering for the University of Geneva (“UniGe”) involved many lines and waits, but there was a key factor missing: the familiar American volunteer, dressed in a readily identifiable tshirt, standing there just to attempt to answer moronic questions.  I had so many moronic questions and I was just surrounded by french-speaking, line-waiting, bored people!  Anyway, it happened, and today’s visit to IHEID went just fine.  IHEID gave me a USB stick…not only am I now pronouncing “USB” with the French sound to the letters instead of the English sound in my head, but I have no idea what this stick is for.  Shrug.

Now Seth, on the other hand, has been to work for two days.  He likes the lab and the people there, thinks the work is interesting.  They are giving him a lot of freedom to shape the project he’s working on, which is cool.  They are also all supposedly reading this blog…hmm.  Hi media and design lab people!  Maybe that’s the only reason why I’m saying nice things about Seth’s experiences there so far… ;)  So, I don’t actually understand what Seth is doing, so I’ll let him post more about it later.  I thought I should say something though since Seth is a bit preoccupied with the CERN news at the moment.

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Sep 06 2008

Three funny things that happened

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Cornet à la crème

On one of our last days at the chalet, Seth and I took a really beautiful hike in the alps. We took a bus up to a stopping point called Solalex and hiked back down. At Solalex, there were a couple of restaurants, some cows, and a local crafts gallery. One restaurant is particularly well-reputed, and so we stopped there for a coffee and a cornet à la crème, on Mary’s recommendation. I assumed a cornet à la crème would be a nice, buttery pastry filled with fresh cream. It was not that. It, instead, was a fresh, buttery ice cream cone filled not with ice cream, but with freshly made whipped cream, straight from the nearby cows. Filled up high as one might top it with a few scoops of ice cream. It was really yummy, but I don’t even want to think about the amount of fat I ingested.

Sheepmowers

A couple of weeks ago, Seth talked about how sheep mow the lawns of the University of Lausanne. Turns out they also mow the random fields and green spaces along the highway. Seth and I are were walking along trying to find some store and Seth says, “It smells like horse.” I said, “I think you mean sheep,” as a I discover a flock of sheep eating in the shade of a small shed. The sign on the fence surrounding the green space tells us not to feed the sheep and who to call in case of a problem. What kind of problem? I’ll let you think of the hilarious scenarios.

Birdman
In my opinion, this a New York crazy kind of story. Akin to the time I sat across from a man on a subway in NYC who decided to smear a palmful of something closely resembling hummus into his hair while riding the train. We had gone to a mall that had an electronics store, and we were waiting for the bus to go back to our apartment. There was a strange man next to me who was trying to convince me that Seth has a throat problem. He turned out to seem normal when the following occurred: Seth was trying to tell me something about an old, weird looking couple sitting across the aisle from us on the bus in a mixture of Yiddish and Hebrew in the hopes that they would not understand. I assumed he was trying to say something like “they are really weird looking and smell bad” but it was taking a while because he doesn’t speak Yiddish and I don’t speak Hebrew. While he is talking, a bird flaps across the aisle. I shreik, thinking that somehow a pigeon had gotten onto the bus. However, on closer inspection, it turns out that that this “pigeon” actually resembled more of a miniature vulture (it had no feathers on its head and the rest of it was covered with scraggly gray feathers) and that on its foot was tied a string that lead to the man (henceforth, “birdman”) in the couple’s hand. Birdman was dressed in a raggedy, bird-stained old suit, had long red-gray hair, and had deepset, pale blue eyes with high cheek bones. Birdman looked at me, vaguely amused that I had screamed, and proceeded to take care of his bird. Birdman scooped it up, moved to the seat behind Seth (who was praying that the bird would not poop on him or land on his shoulder), and demanded of birdwoman to hand him some items. First, a cardboard box filled with bird food. Birdman shoved the bird’s head in, but the bird didn’t want to eat. Then, a greasy glass bowl that birdwoman filled with water. Birdman shoved the bird’s head in, but the bird didn’t want to drink. Birdman finished the water himself. Birdman saw me staring and explained, defensively, “He has no feathers because he got a chill.” Like that explained it. Seth and I watched birdman all the way home. It was insane. Sadly, we have no photos, so here is my rendering of birdman+bird.

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Sep 06 2008

Archaeology meets Switzerland

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This article is about how melting Swiss glaciers in the Alps are yielding new archaeological treasure troves.  So I guess that’s one kind of good thing about climate change.  Thank you, Miriam, my archaeological advisor, for bringing this to my attention.

Seth adds: Miriam, come do a dig in the Alps. It looks fun!

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Sep 06 2008

Serendipity

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Last week, despairing about the lack of stores that carry staples of a vegetarian diet like tofu, tempeh, and seitan (not to mention good varieties of rice, edamame, curry paste, etc.), I Googled around. Turns out Switzerland doesn’t just regulate chocolate content in chocolate chips, they regulate tofu and tempeh as well. Here’s Article 24 of the Ordonnance du DFI sur les céréales, les légumineuses, les protéines végétales et leurs dérivés (in German, Italian):

Art. 24 Tofu et tempeh1

1 Le tofu est un produit, égoutté ou non, fabriqué à partir de fèves de soja et d’eau, avec addition d’un agent coagulant.

2 Peuvent être utilisés les agents coagulants répertoriés dans l’annexe.

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4 Le tempeh est un produit à base de fèves de soja, fermentées au moyen de cultures appropriées (p. ex. Rhizopus oligosporus). Il peut être fabriqué à partir de céréales.

So there’s a law about what constitutes tofu and tempeh. Great! But where could we find it? (Our regular supermarket, Migros, carries one kind of tofu that’s not great.)

So the serendipitous discovery: while wandering near our train station, on the way back from a second-hand furniture store inexplicably closed every Monday (virtually all stores are closed here on Sunday, so closing on Monday just doesn’t seem fair) we found a pan-Asian grocery store (plus some Middle East flavor, but without any hummus). It carried multiple, local kinds of tofu. Lots of varieties of rice. Really weird vegetables. Lots of types of curry pastes, including one without fish oil. Chili oil, soy sauce, sesame oil. But we didn’t see any tempeh.

So I found the clerk, who had been very helpful and excited in explaining the various rices to us (maybe Jackie understood him, but all I got out of his explanation was that each and every one was a “special” variety), and asked him for tempeh. “Oh, tempeh!” he exclaimed and ran off to the meats freezer and began rooting around the bottom of it. After 10 seconds he pulled out what looked like a kilo of tempeh. Overly pleased with himself, and with us for wanting tempeh, he wanted to know where we’d heard of it. Had we tried it at the restaurant next door? “Yes, yes,” we answered, rather than try to explain—well, what exactly would we have explained? I guess we could have told him it was part of our culture?

Discoveries like this have helped us appreciate what Renens, our village (which is working class and immigrant heavy) has to offer. Once we go back and get the address, we’ll be sure to add it to HappyCow (which really needs updating for Switzerland).

HappyCow's Vegetarian Guide

Postscript:

Yesterday, walking through the open air market at Plaine de Plainpalais (English translation) in Geneva, I found seitan. Also, falafel balls and hummus. All in small quantities, and pretty overpriced.

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Sep 03 2008

Even more moved in…

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And our webcam is working. Go get on Skype, right now, before the novelty wears off! If you leave your Skype name in comments (comments aren’t public by default) or e-mail us, we’ll look for you…

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