It was a long and hard fight. No, not the campaigns, keeping up with the news rush, staying afloat on the information flood. I can imagine that a lot of you, just like me, read and compared and analyzed and re-analyzed, and all the while had this funny feeling in the stomach, “what if”… What if it doesn’t work, what if the
“real” America awakens, what if a moose hunter takes control of the number two position?

At the end, everything went fine and reason prevailed. And after almost two weeks the feeling of satisfaction and relieve is slowly replaced by a certain emptiness: where do we go from here?

Good night everybody…

So, everybody is talking about the web 2.0: the social network. Sharing the mean and the sublime, the ordinary and the unconventional, the public and the private. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

So, how come that thise blog still looks like the monasteries copy shop? Dusty and dull and without any multimedia? Sure enough, there is no single answer to this negligence. Certainly, the responsible person for this sorry collection of dribble does have the tendency to look into the past then the future. He probably wouldn’t mind if the whole blog thing would be based on paper and pencil!

But enough of that! After all, we are living now in the age where everything is possible. “Yes, we can!” shall be the quote that will guide this blog henceforth!

And we begin our FnL 2.0 with a clip from my favorite news caster and political analyst, Mr. Jon Stewart

This was probably the best post national congress, pre election show he did, and one could tell that this whole “real” vs “fake” Amercia really reaaly pissed him off. Watch all the clips from that episode, it is magnificient!

Ok, ok, the whole “embedding the video” thing did not work, since wordpress doesn’t allow embedding video content from all sites. Pity, comedy central is not on the list, therefore I can only post a link to that video… But I will keep at it and there will be posts with real web 2.0 style embedded video! Promise!

Somehow I managed to get away for two weeks, I am still not sure how I pulled that one off! Anyway, the planing of this trip began months and months ago and resulted in the following which I would like to present you as “Plan A”:

  • Fly to Istanbul
  • Take the train to Damascus
  • Spent a few days there and maybe in Aleppo
  • Return to Turkey and stay with my mom in Aydincik
  • Return (somehow) to Istanbul, spent a few days there
  • Fly home

Now, our plans had to be adjusted and modified a bit as the trip came closer. For one thing, we had decided to travel during the last days of Ramadan, so some of our transfers fell right into the holidays. That made getting flights or train tickets a bit difficult. Then, when the time had come to leave (I had just returned from a week of collaboration meeting in Utrecht), I didn’t have a passport to go to Syria.

What had happened? Well, I had sent my stuff to the Syrian embassy, but unfortunately forgotten to include a return envelope marked as registered mail. Now, probably everybody here will say “Sure, that’s how you handle sending around passports”. To my defense, the US embassy had not required this the two times I applied for my J1! Anyhow, they kept my passport, but did not notify me! Even though they had all the phone numbers they needed to let me know that I had to send them a new return envelope. So when I came back from Utrecht (Friday night), there was nothing I could do about the whole thing. and the Syria trip got cancelled…

Otherwise, the vacation was great. Sure, we did not have so much luck with the weather, which, btw, seems to be a recurring theme, but that didn’t bother me that much. The week at my mum’s place was very relaxing and quite, we spent the whole time at the beach sleeping and reading. The train journey’s back and forth to her place were kinda exciting. It also made me reconsider the term “delay”… see, in Switzerland a train is “late” when it has more than 2-3minutes (!) “delay”. None of the five trains we took in Turkey arrived within two hours of their schedule. At first it made a bit nervous, especially when missing a connecting train was at stake, but once you gotten over that occidental schedule fanatism, a certain calmness start spreading through your body. It is the feeling that everything will be all right, regardless what. Therefore, I am looking forward to that train trip to Syria, hopefully next year!

The fin de voyage was in Istanbul, whre we spent three days sight seeing. Thanks to my aunt, we had a lovely little hotel right in the center of the old city. Everything was just a five minute walk away: the Blue mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Basilica cystern, the Topkapi palace… It was brilliant! The evenings we went to Istiklal caddesi, a big shopping street with lots of restaurants and cafes, where we had very nice food. All in all, visiting Istanbul was great fun. I don’t know, though, if I would want to live there, too…

So, that was my vacation for this year. Was fun, entertaining, relaxing, and also a bit educational. If you wanna have a look at the pix I made, click here.

Well, don’t get too excited: This might be only a tiny spark of writer’s itch in the long winter of silence…. Let’s enjoy it as long as it last, shall we?

The summer has been an interesting experience. Visitor’s forced me to leave the security of my light tight apartment and travel the premises of the north eastern part of Lake Geneva: the nicer part, sorry Geneva… :-).

To get started one takes one of the boats across the lake. The connection Haut-de-Lac is especially nice, since it takes you across from Lausanne to the south east and then hops from harbor to harbor along the lake till you are back again. It also stops at Chateau de Chillon and, most importantly, at Montreux.

Now, Montreux is very pretty, at least as much as Lausanne, but what makes it the winner is the additional flair of being more international, or as we writer’s say: cosmopolitan. I went two times to this year’s Jazz festival. The first we got caught by a terrifying thunderstorm and got completely soacked, so that wan;t much fun. The second time was nicer and we listened to a Big Band on one of the outdoor stages. Well, actually, there was only one outdoor stage this year… Later, we went into one of the jazz clubs and had a bit more Jazz and some drinks… Very enjoyable and recommended!

But Montreux is also fun when there is no festival on, you can just visit, sit on a terrace and enjoy the sun and a nice beverage. Or a dessert buffet, if you are lucky….

But in addition to all that, Montreux is your starting point to explore the Berner Oberland. You can either take a train to Gruyère (cheese), or go to Chateau d’Oeux (balloons), continue to Zweissimmen and Gstaad (mountains!), or stay at the lake region, but at about 1000m elevation, which gives you a very nice view over the lake.

One of the places we went for this years sortie fromage, the yearly cheese outing with the lab, was a little restaurant right above Villeneuve. We took one of the cog railroads from Montreux to Haut-de-Caux at about 1200m and then walked to the restaurant, which took us an hour or so… On the way we met a group of paragliders that were getting ready to jump. At the restaurant, you had a brilliant view over the lake all the way to the west. After night fall, you could even see the lights of Lausanne… ’tis very pretty and the fondue was very nice indeed! They have a variant which they call fondue tomate: they add tomatoes and spices to the cheese, so it turns a bit red. Then you eat it with potatoes instead of bread, maching them a bit and pouring the cheese over them… Sounds delicious, right?

Beyond exploring, the summer was filled with lots of movies. It was the year of the comic adaption, I would say, and a very successful one at that! So I had very enjoyable nights at the cinema (Dark Knight, Ironman) and not so enjoyable ones (Hancock…), but I will not start any reviews here and now, I am afraid.

All in all, I would say this was a pretty nice summer. And I am looking forward to the next one….

Wow, it has been over TWO months since I have posted anything… Gues the well has pretty much dried up, huh? Well, while I am shrouded in silence, why don’t you check out the links on the left?

In the meantime I have entered into my regular summer state: Lots of sleep and hiding from the sun… The Eurocup did delay the summ-ernation this year, but it could not prevent it.

Apropos Eurocup: That was a rather enjoyable championship, wasn’t it? Sure, none of the teams I supported made the win, but there was something just about Spain taking the cup home. Sure, the whole concept of a deserved win has no meaning in football, but in the rare cases the winner does coincide with one of the tournaments best teams, a certain satisfaction arises in me…

What’s next? A looong summer is waiting ahead, where I will be mostly busy working. The Montreux Jazz Festival is up this week, and there will be plenty of other festivals in the next few months, so I might actually write something, who knows?

Last week I went to see “The New Babylon”. The movie was written and directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg in 1929, a time where the still young Soviet Union’s artists were experimenting heavily with new languages or media. Almost 80 years later, the movie seemed naive and even a bit silly to me. Its story is quickly told: After the war of 1871 between France and Prussia, which ended in France’s defeat, Paris was ruled for a brief period by the Paris commune. The movie tells the rise and the fall of the commune in eight parts: First, the status quo is shown, with rich Parisienne stuffing their bellies and partying the whole night through, while the poor are working their asses off and the soldiers are sent on their way to kick Prussian ass. But the war is lost, so the rich guys flee to Versailles, leaving the town in the hand of the people and the army. The army follows the orders to return to Versailles, where they are brain washed and told to take Paris by force. Meanwhile, Paris has turned into worker’s paradise, with everyone being happy doing their daily chores. But, oh, beware, the army is back and after a bloody fight, the commune is defeated. In the aftermath, the captured leaders are put to death, but not before they can raise their voices once more to cry out their defiance: “Vive la commune!”

This movie is silent. The score was played by the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. Now, most silent movies don’t have a dedicated score, usually a pianist would improvise something from a standard repertoire of melodies. Not in this case. Shostakovich, barely into his twenties, composed a whole score (his first) for “The New Babylon”. The score is very much the young Shostakovich: light, fresh, witty, and ironic. His sense for getting the most out of the score shows very well in the scenes where the music is directly describing the action: The first shot of the cannon against the communards, for example, is accompanied by cymbals. Or later, when in a short break an old man plays a memorial to the dead on a piano, this is all we hear.

I think that without the score or a score any less ingenious as Shostakovich would have maqde the movie unwatchable, except for historical and educational purposes. It is the music that makes the rather shallow treaty of an important historical incident almost profound.

Yeah, Easter was fun this year: Cold wind, storms bringing snow and hail: Europe had a glorious time on its four day weekend! While places in Switzerland were completely snowed-in, in some cases even bringing the traffic to a halt, I was in south east England. Snow and hail we did not get, but boy, the wind was not only storm strength, it was bitter cold!

Which is pity, since the tip of the British isle called Cornwall is very pretty! But due to the weather we mostly stayed indoors or in the car… Which turned out to be not too bad since we visited the Eden project. Situated in an old clay mine, the Eden project transformed the once barren and wated land into a botanical garden. Under two Domes, called Biomes, tropical and mediterranean climates are emulated. The exhibitions center not only around plants and their origin, but also about the ecological, economical, and politcal impacts of mankinds exploitation of nature.

The Biomes are complemented with an outdoor display which we decided to skip in favor of the warm and cosy domes! The educational display were interesting yet sometimes not detailed enough for an educated audience. In general, most information displayed doesn’t come as eye opening if one is just generally interested in fair trade, organic farming, and so on.

Beyond the educational mission, the project is also trying to lead by example. Eden is trying to become waste neutral, invests in the local communities, minimize its own impact on the environment, and lots of things more. Their webpage contains a lot of information so if you got curious go check them out!

is a children’s game, and believe it or not, it goes WAY back in history. Check out this little historical overview (in German). The english name, btw, is “The Blind Man’s Buff”.

But it is not the game that sparks this article, it is a restaurant in Zürich with the same name. The idea is simple yet intriguing: A full restaurant, with a complete menu including beverages, serves the food in complete darkness! No, the guests are not blindfolded, no, there is not a tiny little light source somewhere, no: The restaurant itself is completely dark!

How does it work? When you enter, the maitre d’ welcomes the guests and gives them a short introduction. Everyone is required to leave coats, handbags, etc in lockers since they would be obstructions in the dark of the dinning hall and near to impossible to retrieve if lost without destroying the atmosphere for all guests. Then, one is obliged to study the menu and to memorize roughly what one would like to eat. On my visit, it offered three starters, main courses, and desserts. The selection was small, but nice and had even a vegetarian choice. Once one is ready to go, one of the server leads the guests to their tables. Now, how does the server see in the dark? Well, they don’t since they are all blind. After forming a little procession with your hands on your front person’s shoulders, we were first brought into a semi-dark ante. Then we were brought to our table in the dinning hall, with the server guiding us all to our chairs.

Boy, the first impression after sitting was disorienting! You really couldn’t see anything which after a while started to heart my eyes! After a while I took of my glasses since I was still straining to see something which really tired my eyes out. Without the glasses it worked a bit better for me, but after two and a half hours I was exhausted, I must say!

But I am jumping ahead. After sitting down, the server took our order. If we expected a concession to the fact that we could not see, we were mistaken: Wine was brought in a bottle, glasses were placed on the table, and it was up to us to make sure that we won;t tip anything over! Refilling the wine glasses turned out to be my job, which I did by sticking my finger into the glass and waiting till me tip felt the liquid… A similar tactic I had to use to find the food on my plate. I mean, they did not serve just a big bowl of something mixed all up! My main course was fish with rice and a comgit of cherry tomatoes! Try to get that on your fork without seeing anything! So combined use of fork and fingers was at least in my case unavoidable!

Why do this in the first place? The the story behind the restaurant reveals that the idea was born during an exhibition called “Dialogue in the Dark”. The idea is to create an experience for people with sight that resembles blindness. That exhibtion toured through a lot of places including Hamburg and was a great success. The restaurant takes that idea further. Besides the helplessness that one feels in a very common and everyday situation, one is also forced to concentrate on the remaining senses once the main sense has been switched off.

Did it work? Well, to some extent certainly. However, I was so busy with the mechanical act of eating that I did not savor the food as much as I wanted to. That was a real pity since the food was very nice indeed. Nevertheless, I can only recommend the experience to everybody. Inspired by this idea, there are now several restaurants all over Europe that offer the same experience. Maybe you can find one around the corner?

A balloon, according to the all-knowing almanach Wikipedia is a “a flexible bag filled with a gas, such as helium, hydrogen, nitrous oxide or air”. As correct or valid this definition might be, can it capture the wonder of seeing one rise up in the air? Does it express our fascination with being unbound by gravity? Is it a definition that explains our craving for sailing silently through the air?

Well, I guess not. And thus the rather plain definition fails to express the joy that I had watching the balloons rise into the cold thin air in February when I was in Chateau d’Oex at the Festival de Ballons. The day was nice and sunny, albeit a bit chilly, and the trip there took us through narrow tunnels and steep canyons. There wasn’t much snow, it has been a very mild winter, but still enough to give you an impression of the grandeur the valley must have when it is completely snowed in!

Chateau d’Oex is a balloon haven. It has housed the festival since 1978, bringing in more than 10000 guests in the last years. It was from here that the Breitling Orbiter 3 started his flight around the earth, to be the first hot air balloon to complete the tour non-stop. Besides the festival and competitions, there are temporary and permanent exhibitions around ballooning, and of course passenger flights.

No, I did not fly in one of those things. They look pretty and beautiful from below, however, I really have no ambitions in goinjg up with one. Besides, the prizes, depneding on length of the flight, can be easily a few hundered Swiss! So, I rather stayed on the ground and took pictures

Enjoy!

Well, while most of us are sitting comfortably in their homes and watching the winter outside with a deep felt relief that civilization keeps us warm and safe, a handful of brave and crazy people endure the bitter cold temperatures of the Antarctic summer in pursuit of science and knowledge…

Since I myself count to th efirst category this year (and might not get a chance to return to the 7th continent ever again), there are quite a few colleagues in the IceCube experiment who get to go more frequently and for longer stays to 90deg south. One of them is Michelango, who has been not only keeping a blog about his (ad)ventures (see the blogroll), but who also wrote a South Pole diary for The Economist. You might wanna have a look…

As for me, the lax period owed to my adjustment to the Swiss lifestyle has come to end as of beginning of this month. Ever since, work has been keeping me very busy, therefore the output on this blog has remained fairly low, I am afraid. But I can assure everybody that nothing exciting has transpired in the past few weeks, except maybe the visit to the Balloon festival (which in itself speaks records as of what counts as excitement in my life lately… :-) ). Pictures were taken on that trip which I failed to upload so far, a mistake I will correct next week.

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