Archive for April, 2010

Well, I am back from my trip to Fermilab, where we had our semi-annual gathering of “LARPies” (LARP is the US Dept. of Energy funding vehicle for supporting accelerator research of US physicists at the LHC. LARP also supports my stay at CERN. “LARPies” are therefore those of us working on LARP-funded projects). Walking from the CERN warehouse where I picked up a parcel, who would I run into but my colleague Dave Gill, of TRIUMF fame. In fact, Dave was the person picking us up at the Vancouver airport when we first arrived there in August of 1983. He is doing an experiment here at CERN. So we’ll have lunch together soon, we agreed.

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While Uli is admiring the beauty in the invisible my friend Sarah and I searched out visible tulips at the border of the lake in Morges near Lausanne. It was a gorgeous day and the tulips opened up in all their glory. There were unusual colors, and I did a lot of macro shots and was glad there was no wind. Now with my digital camera I can change the ISO so more is possible than before to even get the inside of the very dark red tulips, not needing a tripod. After two hours of shooting we had a coffee and homemade desserts in the park. We had lunch in another cafe with sandwich and cake—a Turkish woman owned the bakery so among the French raspberry pastry there was baklava to Sarah’s delight.

The way back we went through vineyards high above the lake and took pictures of cows coming back from pastures and vineyards in yellow because of the dandelions growing in the spaces. We also went through a young forest and saw an old abbey through the branches.

What a great place this is!

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Recently, the LHCb experiment at the LHC announced its first B-Meson (Europeans also call it Beauty). This has special significance for me, as the PEP-II electron-positron collider we were operating at SLAC was a “B -Factory” and made gazillions of these. I did not count them, but the total delivery we made to the BaBar detector over 10 years must have been a billion B-mesons or so. BaBar, together with its sister experiment Belle in Japan, established beyond any doubt the existence of so-called CP-violation in the B-system. In a nutshell, particles and antiparticles are not exact mirror images of each other but differ slightly (in their mass). For this reason the early Universe was not exactly symmetric and a slight excess of matter vs antimatter is thought to have existed. Because of the asymmetry, when matter and antimatter annihilate a slight excess of matter remains. So the antimatter ultimately vanished (for the most part anyway), leaving our matter-dominated Universe. If it weren’t for this asymmetry, we would not exist to ponder this remarkable fact. While the B-Factories were able to establish the existence of CP-violation in the B-meson system and measure it quantitatively, the larger question about the asymmetry in the early Universe remains in essence an open issue because the CP violation in the B-meson system is not sufficient to fully explain the asymmetry (had it been found to be small or zero, this reasoning would have been in serious trouble). So we need to look further, and LHCb is one of the experiments to do just that.

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Luckily we had planned to drive to Frankfurt for my aunt Ilona’s 70th birthday! It is so rare for us to be able to participate in a family event that Uli and I were happy to be part of this! My parents were able to join from Köln and in all we were 30 guests, family and friends. The food was delicious and the speakers were funny and creative. Ilona’s son Patrick prepared a slide show—photos from young age up to now, a whole life passing by. Ilona has been a part of my growing up also, a friend to confide in and get sensible advise when needed. Her house is often my first or last station in Germany when I visit.


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Eerily Quiet…

When we got up this morning after coming back last evening form our Germany excursion, something was missing: it was quiet, and no occasional roar from airplanes taking off and landing at GVA (which of course we have prime view of through our balcony door). Haven’t had this since 9/11. We may be affected as well: I am scheduled to fly to Chicago coming Saturday to our next LARP collaboration meeting (gathering of those from the US who work with or at CERN on LHC upgrade projects). While right now I still assume I will be going; as this drags on this will be less clear.

A reminder that there are still things we cannot control.

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We drove to Frankfurt on Friday to attend a family gathering celebrating Sylvias aunt Ilona’s 70. birthday. We left the freeway to drive through the Swiss Jura and the villages and towns along the way. Besides passing through a narrow gorge carved apparently by an ancient river, this route took us through the transition from French to German areas of Switzerland. Some places show bilingual signs, but many are either or, and we transitioned back and forth: French to German, back to French, until eventually an abrupt transition to German as we got closer to Basel. In between some seemingly schizophrenic places with all or mostly German names of people (as judged from adverts and the names on business doors) but completely French signage and advertising.

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Köstliche Landluft!

This means “Oh glorious smell of the countryside!” This morning we woke up to a nice smell sort-of like I smell after one of our Mexico Mission trips. After establishing that it wasn’t us who produced the odor we went outside to discover that the source was definitely somewhere out there. You see, we do live close to the countryside and I guess today was the day the fields needed to be fertilized, which of course is done using what the French call purin (from puer: to smell). What a way to start the day!

We escaped the smell by going to Lyon and picking up our new passports. On the way back we discovered Nantua, a nice old town nestled in a gorge and bordering on a lake. The cathedral St. Michel goes in part back to the 11. century. It looks quite rugged (in part because it was damaged by extremists and one has chosen not to try to patch up the signs of these events). In one side altar a devotion to a pastor named Gay from the church who resisted the Nazis (the fureur teutonique as was written) and paid for it by being executed 1945 in what we think was a concentration camp in Poland (we did not recognize the name), he was 34 years old. A quick lunch on the town square with the church in view, then we had to head home for I had a meeting to make. We’ll definitely be back to Nantua; the church has a historic organ with performances about every 2nd month.

Nantua center & St. Michel (left, with rosette)

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My sister Susanne and Andreas came to visit last week. A perfect opportunity for me to go to Montreux, halfway around the lake, with the major attraction being the Castle of Chillon. We were very lucky to have sunny weather, so we could see the site in all its picture-postcard perfection. We spent two hours in it, what with all its nooks and crannies and chambers above and below the ground. We were particularly drawn to the torture chamber, but the view from the towers was spectacular as well.
After lunch at the lake we drove through the vineyards of Lavaux, a Unesco World Heritage area known for its Chasselas, white wine. In the evening we concluded our trip visiting the Lausanne Cathedral where we were lucky enough to hear someone practicing on the huge organ, filling the whole church with glorious music. Nonetheless, the custodian apparently did not appreciate the music: she exclaimed the noise was insupportable (unbearable) and asked the organist to stop, which unfortunately he did.

Lac Lemans and Chillon Castle

Another day we went along the French side of the lake. High above the lake near Col de Saxel we still walked in the snow while spring flowers bloomed in Evian les Bains, a well-known resort and casino town which had its heyday in the 1920s. Yvoire, an almost completely preserved medieval town, enchanted us with gorgeous evening sun.


We also enjoyed time together and the Swiss-French food—one evening with cheese fondue halfway up the Jura and cafes in Carouge and Geneva.

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Easter we went to the Lutheran Church in Geneva again. Feasting, Dancing and Singing! We met a member of the CMS experiment at CERN; needless to say they are elated in getting their first real data now. Sylvia made contact with the choir director and may get involved with Liturgical Arts.
After that we visited the Bains de Paquis, a swimming facility and spa originally from the 1920s but (obviously) renovated. Still, it kept its rustic atmosphere, and you can get lunch (or dinner) at the buvette. A wood-burning stove kept us warm and cozy—outside it was almost hailing. Two people actually braved the weather and hopped into the water! The facility has some historic significance: slated in the 80s for demolition and development, massive protests of the Geneva populace saved it and convinced the city to renovate the facility and keep it open. Uli’s French teacher Berinda was right in on the action, as she told us with conviction.

View from the buvette of Bain de Paquis

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Just as I got back from the Bay Area our good friend Manfred (better known to us as “Manni”) came to visit us. I and him have known each other now for 51 years (yes, that is since 1st grade elementary school). We had a great time, exploring Geneva (incl. the very well done and detailed archaeological exhibit underneath St. Pierre’s) and the “Microcosm” Exhibit at CERN; the latter in lieu of actually visiting the accelerator tunnel since the LHC is operating and closed for anyone (except for repairs, of course). Besides touring the area we also used his visit to sample more of the local cuisine. The weather was bad, but that did not prevent him and Sylvia to take lots of pictures (his being a photographer they share a common interest here). For me and him the visit allowed us to catch up on each other’s life (like, having a 4-hour breakfast last Sunday discussing our lives and the world they happen to be a part of). His visits are a gift I would not want to miss.

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