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.