CERN Diary #4

The three months at CERN went by quite rapidly, especially the second half. There were some comings and even more goings, disappearing Summies, a visit from my brother, another visit from two friends, some new housemates (including a lovely cat), a spider invasion and short trips to Austria.

Spiders. On one evening I was watching an episode of Futurama in my room while leaning back against the wall. From the corner of my eye I perceived something crawling right next to me. I looked … and turned pale. It was a giant house spider with 7 cm diameter. Talk about arachnophobia! I managed to capture the beast with tupperware and a CD slimcase, and released it in the garden. But another beast was sitting in a ceiling corner which I could not reach easily. So I decided to stay awake with watchful eyes. At 4 am I eventually risked my life and went to sleep, but not before pulling the bed away from the wall.

I was miraculously spared by the monster, and decided to conquer my fear by closely watching those spiders at the next 10 or so encounters. That helped a lot – my fear of the large ones has only slightly decreased, but I now feel a lot more comfortable around the smaller species!

Nightwish. I composed the mother of all poems (in a more-or-less sonnet style) for my girlfriend’s birthday. It contained several references to Nightwish song titles, and I decided to enhance it by getting Nightwish signatures on it. For that purpose I went to Bern where a signing session was taking place, and met two nice guys in the queue. The new singer Anette was very friendly, while composer Tuomas seemed a little bored with the whole procedure. In the end my mission was successful. Yay! I then celebrated my girlfriend’s and her sister’s birthday with them in Innsbruck.

Farewell. Almost everyone around me had already left: Albert, the Icelanders, Mykhailo, Fabian, Felix, Hiro, Silke, … and now, in the end of September, it was my own time to say farewell. Working with Gregor, Armin and Luc was really great, as were our conversations during coffee breaks, and the time I spent with Gregor (car lifts, tennis, drinks, …). I will certainly miss them!

Inspiration. On the journey back home I stayed in Innsbruck for a few days. There I visited Prof. Kuhn at his institute, which turned out to be a very inspiring meeting, adding further to my vision of the future. I also remember him speaking remarkable words about his marriage: how he and his wife, having met already at a young age, developed alongside each other. That sounds very elegant and romantic to me. In times of trends of developing in adverse directions, I am glad to know such examples!

And now I am back in Graz, striving to organise myself (getting things done :-)), closing the bottlenecks and pursuing my studies, so that in a few months I can start my master thesis. It’s just about time!

CERN Diary #3

At CERN I started studying some differential geometry with Fabian, but unfortunately we never got much further than exploring some basics. Among the other Summies’ initiatives were Waltz and Salsa dancing lessons – great fun! And we really enjoyed the visits to the various CERN experiments and facilities (ATLAS, CMS, ALICE, ISOLDE, …).

Parties. One major thing for “Summies” besides work and sports is … the parties. I must admit that I felt a bit old, but it was fun nonetheless. Every organizing country tried to do something typical, from decoration and games to food and drinks. The great spirit was particularly reflected by the “Israeli-Palestinian party”. We enjoyed Irish coffee, Guinness beer and a Viking invasion at the “Celtic party”. And lots more.

On another occasion, the Dutch party, I decided to return to Thoiry by bus, just to get my orange shirt with a physicist’s joke on it. I had almost no time for the way from the bus station uphill to the house and back down. I guess I ran like a world champion, made it only by a few seconds – and I bet nobody actually noticed the joke. ;-)

Bottlenecks. In August I went to the wonderful wedding of Slavi and Marija in Vienna. In order to get there, I traveled to Innsbruck with Gregor and spent the evening with Lara (my girlfriend’s sister). We had a great time and delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant. During our conversation she responded to one of my lengthy self-reflections with words that would have a great impact further on: “It’s difficult to be honest when you are constantly countering yourself.” – Goosebumps, internal resistance: sure-fire indicators that she had hit a nerve. Doubting my own evaluations has indeed been a major (even tightening) bottleneck for years. Internal integrity becomes difficult under such a habit. Sometimes the keys appear in unlikely places!

The Wedding. I met with my mom and brother in Vienna for lunch, got dressed and went to the wedding church. On the way I met Achim, and so we were both equally late Рor just in time! In the church we witnessed a beautiful orthodox ceremony while an artist was painting icons on the back walls of the church. When I congratulated Slavi, I was so moved I could not speak a word! Then we went to Kursalon Bad V̦slau where the wedding celebration was taking place. A wonderful location, more than 150 guests, and food to die for! The young generation at our table grew particularly fond of the Slivovitz bottles. I resisted them more or less successfully.

Adventures. The porter was everything but elated about my check-in at 4 o’clock in the morning, but I eventually managed to “resolve the tension” when I checked out. The adventure continued on the return journey. I went back to Switzerland with Slavi and Marija, and even though they were quite exhausted from a week-long preparation and almost sleepless night, Slavi decided to travel in one piece. We left Vienna at 6 pm and arrived in Lyss at 4 am. In other to enhance our safety, I burned a CD with catchy metal tunes that would encourage us to recall anecdotes and sing along. I managed to stay awake during almost the entire journey, and my heart lit up when one particular song helped me recall an enormous bunch of memories – with long-lost missing links, so to speak!

After three hours of sleep on their incredibly comfortable guest bed I finished my journey back to CERN and continued programming some JavaScript for a monitoring website. Had I known beforehand what I would end up doing, I could have saved a lot of time and energy … a programming physicist’s curse? :-)

CERN Diary #2

More than three months have passed … and I get the impression that whenever I announce new postings, they get delayed even more! (now let’s try it the other way round: I will not write more on this topic for at least two years ;-))

Let’s turn chronology upside down for a moment. I have safely returned to Graz in the beginning of October. On the journey from Geneva to Graz I stayed in Innsbruck for some days. This is because my girlfriend is now working in Tyrol and living in Innsbruck with her sister. She dared to jump into the cold water, applied for an open position in July, and was immediately accepted. I am so proud of her!

Since this posting is entitled “CERN Diary”, let us return to the chronological style …

Sports. Besides drawing A0 format state diagrams for Eowyn and T0MS, I was also elected team captain for the “Austria+Germany” team in the Summer Student Soccer Championship in July 2007. But our team was rather multinational – Irish, Japanese, and eventually Portuguese players joined forces with the German-speaking folk. We defeated both Italy and Commonwealth 4-3 and then lost the semi-final against Gli Stronzi (an all-star team with Brazilians and what not) 1-2.

Rafting. One of the most outstanding experiences was the rafting trip with a dozen “Summies” on the Dranse river. After changing into our neoprene suits (heavy metal style! :-)) we learned the most important commands from our boat guide. Then we had the chance to jump into the wild waters from a 5-7m cliff. I am a little scared of heights, but I thought I’d like to see it from above. When I arrived there, I thought more seriously about jumping – and so stimulated my fear. Knowing that “there is just fear rising and passing” was not enough to calm down. Then eventually I stood at the 5m edge, said to myself “this is crazy” … and jumped. The cold air, the rushing waters … coming back to the surface, I felt incredibly relieved! What an experience.

The rafting itself was quite exciting. Never really dangerous, however the other boat capsized at some stage. Afterwards some of us went to the Geneva beach and swam in the freezing lake.

Squats. On that evening I went around in Geneva with Fabian (one of the German “Summies”), and we saw a “protest” doom metal concert on the street – people protesting about the seizure of a famous squat, and a lot of police making sure that no traffic was coming through from the one side & no squatters from the other side (reconquering the building). Most squats are quite well accepted and popular in Geneva, like autonomous areas with bars and social institutions and what not. But sometimes the building owners have all squatters kicked out by the police, renovate the building and raise the rents.

We then watched a mind-boggling movie called “Waking Life” at Fabian’s place. On the next day we had some insightful conversations while listening to readings by the Dalai Lama. And life was very interesting!

CERN Diary #1

Some friends asked me to keep a diary of my experiences at CERN this summer (which I would have done anyway ;-)). I could already fill a complete book even about my first week, and shall now do my utmost to compress it into digestible length.

Journey and Arrival: After a short sit-in with Berni, Thomas, Jakob and Volker, I mount the night train on Thursday (June 28). There I share interesting conversations with a girl named Sina, but no solemn slumber due to all the rumbling and squeaking of the train. The last quarter of the trip from Zurich to Geneva offers a wonderful view. Mario picks me up at the station, brings me to CERN and introduces me to lots of people. Everyone is very friendly, easy-going and humorous. Half of the globe is present here, which creates an incredible atmosphere! I already receive a wonderful letter from Natalie which almost moves me to tears of joy. Then we descend into the depths to see the massive ATLAS detector under construction. I find it amazing that such a thing can even be planned, let alone built with such high precision!

First Weekend: On Friday evening we (Mario and I) visit a small Jazz Festival in Crozet, where I practice some French for the first time in 10 years. On Saturday we make a trip to Geneva (absolutely gorgeous in Summer!), where we meet with the newly-wed Slavi and Marija and his best man Holger to spend a lovely day together. We explore the massive fountain, several parks and the inner city.

Thoiry: My lodging is a house in Thoiry on the slopes of the Jura Mountains, which offers a splendid view towards CERN and Geneva; in good weather conditions, even Mont Blanc is visible in the distance. My friendly housemates are Kevin (Canada), Olivier (France) and Giulio (Italy). Occasionally some nice Italians occupy the guest rooms for a few days. My room suffers from a loudly squeaking bed and chronic lack of power plugs. ;-)

First Week: My first day is filled with bureaucratic adventures. Luc, my Belgian supervisor, is quite relaxed, even as it becomes apparent that I have but the faintest of clues about my upcoming tasks so far… amidst databases and as of yet unfamiliar program structures, I cannot see the wood for the trees. Later I discover that other “Summies” (Summer Students) share quite similar experiences. Fortunately I am not the only moron around here! :-)

My main interest focuses on Eowyn – no, not a female student from Rohan, but the well-formed name of a program -, and I slowly begin to understand its structure in order to draw an up-to-date state diagram. I am working in the very building where the WWW was born once upon a time, sharing the office with Armin and Gregor (both from Austria) who are very helpful.

Wednesday, July 4: A very special day. My first lectures in the “amphitheatre”, and first contact with a record-breaking number of “Summies” (2/3 males, 1/3 females). Later we are invited for a “welcome drink”, for the first time without alcohol this year, but nonetheless ideal for getting to know each other.

In the evening the Americans throw a party in the nearby hostel to celebrate their patriotic anniversary. Half of the globe gathers there and gets drunk to variable extents. I meet people from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Iceland, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, UK, US, Israel, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, India, Japan, China, Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina, … more countries than ever before – within just a few hours!

One of the Japanese guys is named Hiro, which makes him quite popular. He has never heard about Hiro Nakamura before coming to CERN though. ;-)

Lake Parade: On Saturday (July 7) Mario, SomAnca (Maria and Hannes, who have come from Austria for a visit) and I visit Geneva again. A dream of a day! In the afternoon we stumble upon the “Lake Parade” along Lake Geneva. Masses of strange people, pimped trucks with posing DJs, males (showing off their abdominals) and females (swinging their hips and more), and lots of gruesome music: “People people people!” (oomptz-oomptz-oomptz) … “Move your bodies!” (zonk-onk-onk-onk drrrumptz) … What a crazy spectacle!

Second Week: The lectures (each day from 09:15-12:30) are becoming more interesting. During a fascinating visit at the antimatter experiments we learn about the difficult production of anti-hydrogen (featuring decelerators) or helium atoms with an anti-proton replacing one of the electrons (amazing, yet highly instable), and the highly unrealistic aspects in a soon-to-be-filmed bestseller by Dan Brown. The students delight in a Toga party and a French party.

Third Week: I participate in two poker evenings and a chess evening, and visit the “Hardronic Festival” with Gregor. One band, dressed in amazing retro outfits (leggings, fishnet tops, subtle makeup, hairstyle, …) plays lots of 80’s metal classics, but the sound is far from excellent. The last band proves that even Metallica songs can sound great with a female voice. – I eventually finish the Eowyn state diagram and stick the printed pieces to the office wall … in A0 format. :-)

Next week will feature lots of sports (Summer student soccer championship, tennis, running etc.), more lectures on the Standard Model and cosmology, and most probably the beginning of some serious programming. I’ll keep you posted!