It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well...

I suppose visiting a foreign country like Moldova is rather like getting into a really cold pool. There are, by my reckoning, three ways to go about this: slowly, quickly, and involuntarily. For the purposes of this discussion, we shall focus on the last - being thrown in head first.

It was only my second day in Moldova - and I was to attend a wedding. In America, this means church pews, organ music, tears, and a general sense of solemnity. In Moldova, this means a ten hour dance party, punctuated by feasting, drinking, feasting, dancing, drinking, and feasting. And if you didn't think you could punctuate dancing with dancing, you are sorely mistaken. Me - I was just sore.

What kind of dancing? The Hora. Over and over and over again. Every ten minutes, the trumpet player would stand up, and the Hora music would start (imagine playing "Flight of the Bumblebee" for ten hours - I still don't know how he did it.) Twenty to thirty people would then circle up and start Hora-ing thier hearts out. If my wedding is half this fun...

The truly amazing part of the wedding came when the basket was passed around. Every family in attendance gave the newlywed couple around 100 US dollars. That's a month's earnings for the average household in Moldova. There were over a hundred people in attenance - which means that a wedding brings in enough money for a couple to start a real life together.

The groom is a student at the University of Alabama. He will be returning there for the next two years to finish his degree - which means that the couple will have precious little time together before he leaves. Why not take her with him? Because it is almost impossible for Moldovans to get visas to other countries. If you are an American, you are used to traveling freely from nation to nation. For someone from a poor country like Moldova, this is completely impossible - "we" simply don't want "them" in our country. Think about that, next time you cross a border by flashing your coveted blue passport.



Heading East

I'm packing my bags and heading east - to the land of Moldova. When I get some time (and a working internet connection) here's what you can look forward to
  • The CERN chronicles, volumes I-III
  • Geohashing - yes, I did it!
  • What not to do while clubbing in Munich (hint - gravity will play a role)
  • Tips for traveling across Eastern Europe by train (just as soon as I discover some)
  • The state of science in Moldova
  • Comics!
Random thoughts/quotations/advice:
  • Just once, I want a cropcircle to disappear overnight. Then, I would be impressed.
  • Never put anything in your ear larger than a pirate
  • Always know where your towel is
  • Do ants cry compound tears from compound eyes?


CERN, Prologue

I woke up at 7:00AM for a 2:00 tour of CERN. Clearly, I had some time to kill. If I were a smart world traveler, I would have read about all the attractions, parks, museums, and activities that were available in a city like Geneva. If I were a smart traveler, I would have these listed on a piece of paper, perhaps with a map attached. If I were a smart world traveler, I would have brought an umbrella.

I am not a smart world traveler. However, I have a hat, a towel and a cheerful disposition - so I set off walking.

The first thing I discovered during my wandering was a small science museum, situated in a lovely park by the lake. When I reached the front door, I discovered something else - the people of Geneva really don't like to do anything before ten in the morning. So, I kept walking.

I wound up on the lakeside, when I caught sight of something in the distance. It was a familiar band of color, set against the rainy, muted greys of Geneva. The streak of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet drew me like a Siren's call. I've heard of tourist traps, but this was like a geek-trap - I think I know how flies feel as they streak toward a bug-zapper. Luckily, I was neither electrocuted nor captured by an evil madman and forced to build a superweapon (or was I?)

I was, instead, amazed.

It turned out to be a special public exhibition: CERN through the lens of Peter Ginter. Put simply, the exhibition consists of fifty large photograps, each with a caption and explanation, mounted to poles along the quay. But the simple explanation does not do this project justice. It is much more than a photo album of a science experiment. In just a few pictures, this display manages to communicate not only the astonishing scale and minute precision of the LHC, but it conveys something of it's spirit, as well.

Proud eyes look out from the weathered faces of Russian factory workers who sit atop hundreds of brass shell casings left over from the Soviet military. 800 tonnes of these casings will be melted down as part of a program to recycle old Russian weapons into peaceful purposes.

In another image, three violinists from CERN play in the foreground as one of the massive magnets of the LHS is hoisted on a crane behind them. Other images show the incredible size and beauty of the LHC itself. One shows the massive underground chamber that houses the CMS detector before it was installed. The hauntinly empty space is cathedral-like. In another, a physist is barely visible behind the stacks of papers on his desk.

Perhaps my favorite image is of a physicist in black robes, meditating peacefully before a component of the accelerator. The unison of science and spirituality in this image is so different from what we are used to in America. It seemed to convey the idea that we are all searching - within ourselves or within the spectacular collisions of atoms - for understanding.

After walking slowly amongst the images and descriptions, I was more eager than ever to see CERN for myself. For me, this trip was about the science - but I was beginning to understand that this place was about more than science: CERN is a human endeavor. Scientists from around the world find themselves working together, sometimes from the unlikeliest of places. Physicists from Palestine and Israel, Pakistan and India, and many others are united in this one place - all working toward a common goal.

All this, and I wasn't even at CERN yet... This was shaping up to be a great trip.


P.S. - Apologies for the late post, for some reason this was incredibly hard to write...


Watch this Space

Apologies, my CERN report is long overdue. The first volume will be up tonight - my word as a Spaniard.



I Stand Corrected

In an earlier post, I described some of the "classic" examples that are used in physics classes. I was surprised when, in a lecture on transformers, the teacher didn't mention the role that transformers played in power transmission.

Turns out, I needed to be more patient. Yesterday, the teacher not only described, but actually demonstrated how transformers are used to deliver electricity over long distances. He set up a voltage supply to represent a power station, and a pair of lamps to represent different cities. First, he connected a lamp to the voltage supply, to show that it could light up. Then, he ran wires from the lamp to a pair of 1 kOhm resistors. He explained that if you want to run power over long distances, the resistance of wires becomes a problem. Between the resistors, he wired another lamp - which didn't light up. He increased the voltage so high that the first lamp blew out - to demonstrate that you can't just "up the voltage" and expect things to work out well for everyone. "Oh Noes!" Thought the class, "how will the people of second-lamp-ville get power?" Never fear, for SCIENCE is here!

Wolfi (our fearless teacher) then used transformers to step-up the voltage through the resistors, and then to step-down the voltage to the second lamp. Huzzah! Sweet, delicious electricity flows to the lamp, and they all lived happily ever after. The best part about all this is that the resistors were mounted on stands, so that the wires actually looked like power lines. Wolfi even told me there were covers for the lamps that made them look like houses.

It may not excite anyone else, but I think taking that extra step to make the power lines look like power lines made the demonstration really effective.



The Days to Come

Traveling aplenty await your fearless hero over the next week.

I travel to CERN on Wednesday for my tour Thursday afternoon then back to Waging for a 4th of July party and finally up to Munich Satruday morning for my return to the Deutsches Museum.There will pe pictures aplenty from CERN and the museum - as well as detailed accounts of my travels.

But while we're on the subject of traveling, adventure, and towels - who here has heard of Geohashing? Hands down if you think I'm talking about geocashing, though it is similar in many ways.

Geohashing is a way of generating a random set of GPS coordinates every day, all of which will fall in the rectangular "graticule" between the whole-numbered latitude and longitude lines containing your house. In English - it's a daily adventure generator. You can play with it here, just pick a location, enter the date, and boom! adventure generated. The idea is that you take your GPS unit, and run/bike/swim/drive/hike/take a derigible to the coordinates. There, you may find geeks - lots of geeks.

This was all started by Randall Munroe, author of xkcd and generally cool guy. The way it words is pretty nifty, too - your coordinates and the day's date are combined with the most recent closing price of the DOW. These are then run through a computerized meat grinder and out pop some GPS coordinates! Because it uses the DJIA, there is no way to predict the coordinates (unless you can predict/influence the stock market to a frightening degree). It also means that, because trading is suspended over the weekend, the coordinates for Satruday, Sunday and Monday are set on Friday afternoon. So, every week, the official xkcd meetup happens at 16:00 Saturday in every graticule.

There are lots of interesting things to use this for - I'm planning on using it to generate random bike rides next semester. You could use it for adventuring, for getting to know the more hidden/remote locations around your town, and for meeting fellow geeks tromping around the woods with GPS recievers in their hands.

I haven't been to a geohash yet - and I missed some prime opportunities. There were two within walking distance of the house in Waging. However, I'm going to keep an eye on it, and maybe be able to visit coordinates in Germany, Moldova, and Italy. If I do, I'll be sure to post my achievements on the blog.


Bloglet - So Close...

Well, Germany has lost the final round of the Euro Cup. In a furous game against Spain, Germany was the first team to make a mistake. The early goal by Spain stood unchallenged for the entire game, and carried Spain to a 1-0 victory over Germany.


Bloglet - The Soundtrack

I have been literally inundated with requests to know what music I'm listening to while I'm here in Germany.

Actually, that's not true. But just in case you were wondering, deep down in that dusty corner of your brain reserved for remembering the digits of pi and the combination to your safety deposit box full of My Little Ponies (assuming those are different...) here is a sampling.

The Weakerthans - a great Canadian band with some wonderful lyrics. Highlights include Elegy For Gump Worsley, Civil Twilight, Tournament of Hearts, Pamphleteer, Sun in an Empty Room, and Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)

Chuck Ragan - A great voice, rooted folk music, and eloquent lyrics. What more can I ask for? For Broken Ears and Do You Pray are personal favorites.

Johnny Cash - I've been telling myself to buy the American albums for a few years now. I saw the music video for "Hurt" in a hotel room full of boys from the Parkview debate team - every one of us was moved to tears. The bits and pieces of other songs that I've heard over the years have been consistently amazing. That man's voice was like a fine wine - only getting better and better with time. I hope that, wherever he is now, they are enjoying his incredible songs.

(interesting note - I'm related to June Carter Cash)



With Apologies to the Internet

The internet can be a lonely, crowded place sometimes. It's easy to fall into the trap that a) things you say are somehow "private" and b) your voice does not count. This blog is over two years old, and is only now developing into something because I think I've finally figured out how to deal with these issues. To the first, I it's important to remember that your audience is only potentially massive - write for the audience you want to write for, and welcome the rest. To the second, well, remember that your audience is potentially massive - that your words have the potential to reach billions. But on most days it doesn't, so thank your lucky stars that someone is taking the time to read. I appreciate each and every one of you for taking the time out to read my words, and even add a few of your own.

Which brings me to my next point - words might not be all that appears here. I think I might actually draw some comics!

Every time I've thought about what I want this blog to be, the idea of posting some funny comics has always been in the back of my mind. The problem, of course, is that I can't draw people worth a flip. Somehow, I skipped straight to spaceships and landscapes. The other problem, of course, it that comics aren't really funny without people.

Then, a few years ago, I came across xkcd and realized that maybe, if you are funny enough, detailed pictures aren't necessary. Now my problem is coming up with something that
isn't xkcd - which is a problem, because I consider it to be funnier than a big bag full of funny.

But, while I was doodling today, I think I might have hit on something. I still have to figure out how to do all this, and get over the "maybe this isn't funny" hurdle, but I think this could be fun. Stay tuned...

In other news: I am a terrible boyfriend. I have completely failed to mention that Lauren is currently working in Conway at the Arkansas Shakespeare Theater. Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and The Sound of Music* are all running for the next couple of days, I think. If you're anywhere in Central Arkansas, you should go.

Lauren is the assistant stage manager for both Romeo and Juluet and The Sound of Music. She's also running the front of house for Tempest, so you can actually say hello!

*Confused? So was I - but it makes sense. Skakespeare theaters will almost always include a big musical to draw a crowd and pay the bills, and hope the audience comes back for the Bard.

Today, my towel came in handy as: a wristpad for my mouse.