Archive for July, 2010

Last week we had our first experimental run with the crystal I talked about a couple of months back. The crystal we used was installed in the SPS, the “Super Proton Synchrotron”, which with 6 km circumference was the largest machine at CERN before the LHC (then LEP) was built. It’s claim to fame is finding the “W and Z Bosons”, unstable particles that mediate the so-called weak interaction. Finding these particles provided the underpinning of the “Standard Model,” our present theory of particle interactions, and netted CERN a Nobel Prize. In accelerator physics and engineering, it demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to build high-energy proton-antiproton colliders with sufficient rate of particle collisions to do real physics with (not everybody thought this was going to work). Nowadays, besides providing beams for the LHC it has its own experimental program, our crystal experiment being one of them. In the experiment we managed to bring the crystal close enough to the beam that clearly the deflected particles were observed, and our equipment worked well. I had one detector from SLAC (we used it in PEP-II) installed for a test, and it performed well also. Our next goal will be to show that the crystal can have a useful application in removing beam particles that will get lost anyway in a controlled fashion, thus reducing beam loss around the ring. Beam loss distributed around the ring is bad because it creates radioactivity and makes maintenance difficult.

A section of the CERN SPS with some of our equipment in the foreground. The blue and red devices further back are accelerator magnets. Note the gentle curvature of the ring in the distance. The beam comes through the round pipe visible in the foreground.

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Visit from Robin

So in July we get a visit from our younger son Robin. We (Sylvia and Robin) met in Cologne at the house of the Schiller Family and spend three days there. Robin cooked for us and we were happy that Tata, released from the hospital, could join us for the evening meals in the garden. It was super hot, though. I took Ana and Robin to the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and we all really enjoyed the pop art. Afterwards we went shopping for music and had a delicious lunch in front of the cathedral. Another highlight for us: Ele had gotten us tickets to hear Al Jarreau, what a stage presence and voice that man has! An unforgettable evening.

Ele, Ana, me and Robin before the Al Jarreau concert.

Sunday and Monday, by then back in Ferney Voltaire and the weather sunny and steaming hot, we decided to go to the Alps with Robin. This time we went up to Montenvers and visited the ice cave in the glacier. It was lit up in Disneyland fashion but quite fun and nice and cool. The scenery was just as spectacular as last time as was the food our host at Les Rhodos cooked!

View of a section of the Mer de Glace glacier.

On Tuesday we met Uli for lunch at CERN and enjoyed the outside “statues”, decommissioned accelerator and experiment apparatus that could be inspiration for modern sculptures.

Robin & Uli underneath the bubble chamber used for many experiments at CERN until 1983. No, it is not a starship!

Uli had to leave for Chicago for a meeting so Robin and I had a few days alone. It was very hot but we did go to Geneva, looked at the excavations under the St. Pierre Church (cooler!) and tried to find air-conditioned cafes. In the evening we had a treat: It being Bastille Day there was a huge fire work display at the Voltaire Castle. Baroque music, instrumental and vocal, was played to a magnificent fire work with lots of gold and red white and blue displays.

Thursday we took the train to Lyon and this time opted for a boat tour on the Rhone and Saone. It was pleasant to have a breeze. Before we had lunch at a fabulous restaurant. I ordered what I thought was “meat”, but I ended up with a kidney dish. So much for my French! The restaurant was very accomodating and let me change my order even after I tried the kidney. We ended the day at the Halles de Bocuse, shopping for some spices.

Friday we went to Montreux to the Jazz Festival. We had a nice dinner at the lake and then went to see Quincy Jones’ line up for music, about 3 hours. Herbie Hancock would have been the next 2…3 hours, however, after standing almost 3 hours for the first set we had to catch a late train to get to our hotel, so we only saw Herbie Hancock play one piece but missed his set (Imagine Project). Too bad!

At dinner in Montreux

On the weekend Uli was back and we spend Saturday on the balcony chatting and eating Robin’s cooked meal and drinking a wine from 1998 he chose (and paid!) Sunday we went to the History of Technology Museum, which was in one of the many 19th-century villas around here. Monday Robin left to visit the Wünsche family in Mainz before he flew back on Wednesday.

Like with Joshua and Kim it was sad to see him go but we are grateful for the good time we had together.

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We needed an excuse to disappear into the mountains, given that the temperatures here in Geneva were about to hit the 30s (and that is centigrade) and humidity here is higher than we are used to from the Bay area. The excuse was found when I heard in the radio France Musique about the “Festival du Baroque au Mont Blanc“, which apparently is already in its 13th year. Sylvia found us a nice hotel and we got tickets to a concert in the “Eglise Baroque de Cordon” and off we went on Saturday, the 3rd of July.  Cordon as it turns out provides splendid views of Mont Blanc and its surroundings, besides its apparently quiet well know eglise. We hiked in the afternoon for only a short time  because of the impending daily rainstorm. After dinner we attended the concert: “Il Pastor Fido” by an unknown guy named Chedeville, who attributed it to Vivaldi in order to get it published. It was performed in the splendid baroque surroundings of the eglise, with people in costumes attending to the visitors as they lined up. The next day we took the tramway up to Nid d’Aigle, a popular spot to begin the Mont Blanc ascent (no, we did not!). Grand views of the nearby Bionnassay glacier, and beautifully cool temps.

On the way down intermediate stop at Col de Voze. Sylvia took in a lot of pictures of the alpine flora. The train has been there for a long time, and I guess it shows: When it approached from higher up, Sylvia could see flames shooting out of the roof of the train we were about to board for the trip back to the valley. Hmm…!? Well, two employees of the train company did scale the roof and eventually it was decided that our train wasn’t track-worthy and we were unceremoniously moved onto the other train that, about to go up one more station, got rerouted to go down instead. Those who wanted to go up I guess were offered their money back….??

The hotel Les Rhodos turned out to be really nice. The host is also the chef and has worked in Paris, we got to enjoy his art twice at dinner. In fact, the hosts were very nice people indeed, and we got to practise our French quite a bit talking to them and the other guests. All of it in full view of the Massif Mont Blanc and the Aravis mountains.  We definitely want to come back here!

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Every Thursday there is an offer to join a two hour walk in our surroundings with the walking club of the CERN women. There are three levels but due to my knee injury I am happy to stay with the more level walks! Thea, our leader, always choses some nice hikes. The first one had a lot of variety  starting out at one of those picturesque French villages, passing by some vineyards and pastures with golden grain. Later we had a chance to cool off in the forest. There we also discovered a pond with wild water lilies and poppies a la Monet at the end of the walk gave color to the countryside.

Another  hike I went on went along a small river and through a forest. It was less level then last time so we got some exercise. Since the temperatures here have been rising (up to 38°C) an “all forest walk” was a good choice. Half way through we stopped for a snacktime and opportunity to all be together. Our group membership is about 40 but on average at  each hike  8-12 people join. The nice thing is you met all sorts of people on those walks and I got to also talk some French.

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I was back from Germany  (having been there for Tata’s birthday) just in time for Uli’s birthday. Mani joined us in the Saturday celebration, in fact his birthday was a few days before so he got to celebrate also. The day was sunny and the view great so we decided to go to the Salève mountain near Geneva. A gondola took us up the steep cliffs, and we had a self-serve lunch overlooking the city and the Jura on the other side. The meadows were abundant with flowers and after a small hike we could also admire the Alps. The most interesting thing, however, was to watch paragliders get ready to take off and float in the sky. The yellow, bright red or orange sails were a beautiful color spot set against the background of  the bluish-grey city and deep blue Geneva lake. Some people took off in pairs (usually one student and teacher), some were alone and did dizzying acrobatic spins. We spend a long time admiring these brave people!

Paragliders taking off from the Salève Mountain

Coming down we decided to go to Annecy for dinner. It was a mild evening and in the narrow picturesque streets of the old town were lots of street restaurants. We finally found a nice one with rustic decor and had a wonderful meal. It included champagne with sour cherries to celebrate the occasion. We arrived back at midnight and the “boys” were happy with their day. After all, they also celebrated having known each other almost 50 years…

The next day on Sunday we drove to Chezery-Forens in the Jura mountains. It was nice and cool to walk in the forest, and we ended up at a waterfall. It was more like a series of pretty cascades in the forest but we enjoyed the serene setting nevertheless. A coffee in the afternoon under an umbrella to shield off the afternoon rain was relaxing. In the evening we  gathered in the garden of our apartment complex. Their annual grill party happened and we enjoyed talking French and English as well as getting to know people of all nationalities that live in our  immediate surroundings.

On Monday Mani and I worked on a photo project, and after having lunch with Uli at CERN we all three drove around in the countryside and took some photos of the surroundings. Mainly this day, though, we spend enjoying each other’s company and chatting. Mani flew off in the evening and we still reflected on the nice three days we had together.

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Being in Europe affords us a chance to catch up with friends we have not seen for a while. In this case, our friend Michael (who is also godfather of our older son) and his wife Kirsten worked hard to get us and Peter and Roswitha together for his birthday… we were students together in Mainz a long time ago (and the males were already classmates and friends in the Domgymnasium (high school)). This promised to be an interesting experience: we haven’t seen Peter & Roswitha for about 18 years. Would we still have anything in common to relate to given that we have been leading somewhat different lives? Would the time changed them? (has it changed us??) On the surface the question can be answered: I believe we all exhibited similar mannerisms and traits as we did when we were students (more maturity and life experience notwithstanding). Or were we just falling back into the old roles and habits (as one does so often, say, when visiting family)?? Of course, after such a long time the relationship needs to be somewhat built anew, which takes a while, longer than one afternoon/evening and morning. In any case we did have a great time, some reminiscing for sure yet we also did have lots of good discussions about contemporary themes (hmm, did that in Mainz too). The dinner they had arranged for was in a nice Gasthaus with typical food for the area and a great beer selection, just what we needed after a not-too-long walk through the woods. We were joined by Michael and Kirsten’s “kids” Paul and Ruth (who had visited us iin California a few years back). We were joined for dinner by Gerd Kossow, also of Domgymnasium fame. This weekend was a real treat. Hopefully it won’t be as long before we meet again (says he who will disappear to California again later this year…).


Three students, on the trail. (Wait! I am not that small! And that grey??) (Photo: Sylvia (we need to talk!))

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Chez les pompiers!

As you know I have been studying French diligently over the last half year, taking the courses CERN offers to its employees. They are intense, 6 hours/week and homework, and somewhat focused on the language elements necessary to function at work. Part of my second course was a “professional visit” at a unit of our choice. Since we had two firemen in our class, the unanimous vote was to have them present their facilities to us, incl. of course the Big Red Fire Trucks (our firemen did not get to vote :-). They did an absolutely stunning job and after that we wrote a report (en français, bien sure) on the experience, with pictures. Lots of work but also great fun and done to the great satisfaction of our teacher Berinda, and even the school director commended us on a well done report. Now it is over (no courses during the summer) and while I really can use the extra time I do miss the course and the camaraderie of our class, not to mention the learning experience. Needless to say, I need to learn a lot more before I’d be comfortable speaking French in public, but I keep on trying (often subjecting our poor admins to a lot of stammering and incoherent wording). Next week we’ll all go to Geneva to have a dîner français, and hopefully we can keep up our French lunches in the cafeteria as well.

At the firestation trying out my new helmet!

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Living only three hours away from Basel I was excited to have the opportunity to go to ART BASEL, an exhibition where art galleries offer everything from the unknown to a Chagall or a Picasso for sale. It partners with Miami (where it will be December 2010), and I had first heard about this show in my multi-media class at San Mateo College from my art teacher Eric Sanchez.

I took an early train so I was ready to go when the exhibit opened at 11 o’clock. I first went to ARTS UNLIMITED where the big installations were. These were the most interesting ones, and each presentations had a write up next to it so I collected all and took some notes. One of my favorite installations was by Michelangelo Pistoletto, who made a labyrinth out of corrugated cardboard where one could walk and find a mirror in the middle—he calls his work of art ” a winding and unforeseeable road that leads us to the place of revelation, of knowledge.” A fun piece by Gerd Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger was called The Conference. It shows office supplies and shocking pink colored crystals growing over them, like an invasion. The controlled environment is contrasted with the out-of-control crystals. Esthetically beautiful was Yuko Shiraishi’s Space Elevator Tea House. It is a red structure with turquoise light strings reaching vertically toward the sky in the inside. It had an etherical quality. I took a tour at noon which was very helpful to understand some of the art—the tour guide was an art historian.

After lunch I went to the hall with all the galleries and admired a real Chagall, Picasso and Calder in the “classical” section. It was a bit overwhelming, the air stale and the hall very crowded, but I still looked at a lot of pictures and sculptures. It also was interesting to watch the people in negociations or admire some excentrically dressed spectators. The installations at the beginning, however, left the most lasting impression on me.

I hope to use some ideas in my own art. I have been designing the bulletin covers for our church in Geneva every week and some of the ideas were used by the staff. We will see what “wild” covers will appear!

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