Archive for Travel

Robert Gober causes earthquakes

Well, maybe no causal relation has been scientifically identified; yet… In Basel the Swiss are causing magnitude 3.4 earthquakes with their lust for energy. Not even the US can say that (and maybe we should be, 13 million exajoules can’t be wrong). It’s a boilerplate sci-fi apocalypse waiting to happen. And, meanwhile, Monica is suggesting that I risk my life, or at least the staediness of my footing, to see some Goober Gober’s legs sticking out of a wall.  Pshaw! As interesting as the Gober’s work seems to be, the Earth hasn’t swallowed me up yet and I plan to keep it that way.


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Sunny Kauai and Icy Ann Arbor Pictures

Kaui ocean and ridgeThey went up at least a week ago, but just for the record, I have uploaded my pictures from Kauai. Captions are still not complete and I think I still need to upload three panoramas I stiched together. My parents, sister, and I spent five days on the island betwen Christmas and New Years. It was a very nice trip. Trips like that could always be longer, but I think we got to do all the major things we wanted to do,

  • One day on the north shore all the way to the edge of the Na Pali coast
  • One day visiting Waimea canyon (the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”) and short hike around the upper edge of Kalalau Valley
  • One day at the National Botanical Gardens and a trip to the beach
  • One day touring a monestary with incredibly beautiful grounds and a short trip to a beach
  • One day snorkeling at a beach on the southern shore
  • Lots of Mahi Mahi and Portugese baked goods

On the opposite end of the weather spectrum… we had some freezing rain that coated all of Ann Arbor in ice a few days ago, and I have uploaded some pictures. It was followed by a tiny dusting of snow. This doesn’t happen too often, and it’s exciting when it does. The weather got even colder the next day as the sky cleared so we were treated to a couple days of sparkling trees, they almost looked metallic. By now most of the ice is gone, but it’s snowing again. Snow is the one thing we haven’t seen much of this year.


Kaua’i Vacation

Tree above Kalalau Valley on Kauai, HawaiiFor the last four days I have been on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i in with my parents and sister. This is Mom’s devious little plan to force us to spend quality time together during the holiday break, and yet it would be crazy to not go along with it. So, here we are, in Hawaii! On our first day here we drove to the end of the road on the north shore and the edge of the famous Na Pali Coast. Along the way we stopped at three beaches and made the acquaintance of many of the local chickens. (Wild chickens are everywhere, many with a flock of cute little chicks.) On the second day we drove south (we are staying in Wailua, on the east shore) and up to views of Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley, both incredible sights. Though a bit smaller, in terms of beauty and impressiveness Mom rates Waimea Canyon higher than the Grand Canyon. Kalalau Valley is even deeper and lusher; it drops 4000 feet from the viewpoint down sheer cliffs and narrow terraces to the ocean in the distance. I might rate it even higher than the other two. On the third day we visited the McBryde National Tropical Botanical Garden and Poipu beach. At Poipu beach we checked out the snorkeling possibilities as well as a couple of the very endangered Hawaiian monk seals sunning themselves at the water’s edge.

It hasn’t just been nice scenery: I’ve been eating ahi (yellowtail) tuna sashimi at nearly every opportunity and in many permutations. I’ve yet to tire of it, though tonight I broke down and tried some seabass that turned out to be incredibly well prepared. Today we also visited a Hindu monastary, and now we appear on their blog (I’m in the group photo that is the second to last picture, I am behind Mom, who is behind a man in a yellow coat). A monk gave us a tiny review of Hinduism while guiding our group on a tour of the incredibly beautiful grounds. Supposedly 140 people, in two groups, showed up for the tours, despite the persistent rain. The best part was almost certainly the close-up look at the construction of their new temple, built entirely of hand carved granite. Most of the carving is done in India, but some finishing work is done on site, and the workers eagerly gave us demonstations of their carving techniques (we were lucky to have a few Tamil speakers in the group to do interpretting for the rest of us.) Their skill and patience with a chisel is incredible.

Tomorrow evening we head for home, to be back in time for the new year celebrations. Hopefully tomorrow we will do some snorkeling before we go. It will be sad to leave the warmth, the sea, and this gentle green island but in the end I think the trip has been just the right amount of everything, including malasadas (2 1/2 dozen, and counting).

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Fall Break, New York City

New York City street, Canyon of HeroesLast week I used the two day fall break that the University of Michigan now offers to visit New York city with Jeremy. Jeremy’s friend Kyle, who worked for him on the web lecture archive project, is getting his MFA studying film at Columbia and offered us a place to stay.

We had an incredible time overall, though there were some frustrations. The first day we tried to take the ferry to Ellis Island, but we arrived just as the last boat was leaving (3:40pm, so early!). On the last day we planned to walk around Central Park, but on that day, after three days of perfect weather, it rained continuously. But, we did eventually get to Ellis Island, and instead of seeing the park I was able to buy some shoes I desperately needed and hang out with Jeremy at a very nice cafe.

Other things worked out perfectly. I eventually found the Crumpler store that I wanted to visit, and though they didn’t have the bag I wanted in the color I wanted, the woman working there was very helpful. I ordered the bag online that night. Jeremy got some shoes that he is now obsessed with. We visited the MoMA and I saw all the parts I missed the last time plus the new temporary exhibit. Saturday, Jeremy and I had a light meal and tea at Teany, and Sunday morning we had tea with Steve and Emily, who just happened to visiting that weekend. Steve took us to a place that had very good tea and sandwiches, Alice’s Teapot, though the girly decor was so extereme that Jeremy and I are certain we would never have stepped foot in the place on our own. We also took a couple long walks, once wondering all the way up from the tip of downtown to Times Square, another time circling the Village with Kyle looking for a bar. On that second trip we eventually ended up at an excellent caviar/martini bar a little bit outside the village on the edge of SoHo called Pravda. The pear martini I started off with was probably my favorite, and Kyle had one with strawberries that was also excellent, the ingrediants always tasted as fresh as they could be.


My New Wallet

Black and orange J Fold walletI should really write something about my trip last week to Brookhaven National Lab and New York City. But for the moment I will keep my comments to one brief update: I now have a new wallet. I was thinking about getting one and the MoMA store offered me a nice opportunity to consider some possibilities. I settled on the black and orange J-Fold. It’s thinner and certainly more interesting than my previous wallet, which served me well since as long ago as elementary school. I can only hope this one lasts as long.

Other items of interest in the MoMA store:


Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais

Supposedly the Cathedral in Beauvais, France [more] is the inspiration for Wilson Hall at Fermilab.

Wilson Hall at FermilabSt. Pierre at Beauvais

It’s a stretch.

Update: As is usual when I realize I’ve been a little stupid, I just discovered that a simple search on Google that I didn’t ever do gives some nice info on this topic. What someone needs to do is write a meta-search engine that does all the searches that you really wanted to do when you hit Google.

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Fermilab Tours

We spent over three hours before lunch today touring seven sites around Fermilab. They included the DO and CDF assembly halls and control rooms, as well as a few random places like

  • the helium compressor station, it takes 5 megawatts of power to keep the liquid helium cooling the superconducting ring a few degrees above absolute zero,
  • the linear accelerators that do the initial acceleration of the protons
  • the accelerator control room
  • the views from the 15th floor of the main (and by far the highest) building, Wilson Hall,
  • and the silicon pixel detector assembly building, with millions of channels these are used for exteremely precise tracking of particles very close to the interaction point.

I uploaded many photos to my Fermilab folder in the gallery.

Setting up for neutron therapy at FermilabIt was interesting to pass the neutron therapy room along the linear accelerator. You walk down a hallway with gauges, big red lights, waveguides and a generally very industrial feel and all of a sudden you come to people wearing scrubs in a controll room and, just past them, a little waiting room. They use the accelerated helium ions to produce fast neutrons that are collimated and pointed very carefully at a patient’s tumor. While we walked by we could hear the physician speaking to patient on an intercom, telling them that the treatment was almost done. You don’t actually see the patient; they are strapped in very carefully and the small room is lowered to the level of the beam underground. I’d imagine it is a very scary process for the patient (though the patients have probably been through many other types of radiation treatments by this point, neutrons are mainly used on very resistant tumors.)

I’m really enjoying the summer school here. I’m learing a lot and the 9am-8pm days are not nearly as bad as I worried they might be. We get breaks between every lecture and lunch is especially long. As long as you show up rested you really don’t get worn out too much. Wilson Hall is very dramatic and so far I am enjoying hanging out there. The one clear deficency (compared to CERN) is the food and beverage. The coffee is standard American fare, and today I had some terribly dry turkey for dinner.



I’m at Fermilab for ten days for the 2006 Hadron Collider Physics Summer School and so far I’m most impressed by the Xlerator hand dryers in the “washrooms” (it seems like everyone here very deliberately avoids the term “bathroom”), those fans don’t mess around: give it 21 microseconds and they’ll slap 2 jelly donuts worth of drying power on those damp hands of yours.

Shall I not be so flippant for once?  Probably unlikely.  But let me just say the lecture are going well, I’m learing a lot, and I think the Fermilab site is quite nice, really.  It’s no Switzerland, but a good effort for middlish America.  There’s some lakey sort of bits, a some grazing animals, and one very dramatic building.


Any Given Sunday in France

French Stores Honor Sabbath, Except When They Don’t‘ is an interesting article in the New York Times today.  It explains some the quirks of Sunday opening in France. It is law that stores must be closed on Sunday, but there are many exceptions. Unions are fighting heavily for the protection of the sabbath, but on the other hand 75% of French people want to be able to shop on Sundays. Many businesses get exemptions (such as museums, pharamacists, and owner operated stores) but the whole system is devolving into irrationality as the restrictions get chipped away. It’s an interesting debate.  I empathize with some of the goals,

The crackdown against Vuitton and other businesses is largely a result of an aggressive campaign against clothing, shoe and handbag sellers by the National Clothing Federation… Its main goal is to protect small merchants, for whom opening on Sundays is a bother and a burden, from big competitors.

I hate those “huge malls that Americans adore” as if I were French myself. (Though there still is a special place in my heart for our upscale friend out on Big Beaver Road.)  The trouble is I think the forces at work are much stronger than Sunday hours can account for.  The price, convenience, and selection of larger stores draws people in any day.  For me a far more significant factor was the hours after work, I wouldn’t have nearly the same need to shop on Sundays (I would have to get up “early” and bike to the Champion in St. Genis on Sunday, where there always were huge lines just before the noon closing) if the stores would just stay open a little later on the weekdays (8:30pm was the absolute latest closing, which was barely enough for me and my late schedule).

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Argonne Workshop

Argonne National Labratory logoLast week I made a trip to Argonne National Laboratory to give a talk at the The North American Standard Model and Higgs Physics Workshop. I gave my presentation on Friday the 28th, but the workshop started on the 27th (and there was a software tutorial on the 26th). Unfortunately, I had an exam on the afternoon of the 27th, so I had to miss at least half of the show. Before my exam I checked out a car from the University motor pool. Then, in the evening, right after the exam Jeremy, Monica, and I cooked a nice dinner before I drove the 4 1/2 hours to Chicago, where Argonne is located.

The trip went fine, though I got a little lost less than a mile away from the Lab. My directions from Google Maps lead me astray. It mentions an incorrect or very misleading turn and I hadn’t looked at the map in enough detail to recover. The route it gives, though not bad, wasn’t the most efficient or robust (it’s better to stay on the freeway longer). Adding slightly to my difficulties was my stop at a gas station to ask for directions. The attendant not only didn’t know anything about Argonne, the giant complex almost a stone’s through away, but he didn’t seem to know English well enough to understand my question “Where am I?” When a guy is looking questioningly at a map and he asks you something do you even need to understand the language to know what he might be asking? I’d think it would be obvious enough, and in response all you need to do is point! It is possible, though baffling to a map-centric person like myself, that he just didn’t know where his gas station was on the map.

I finally arrived in my guest room a little after midnight local time (1am Ann Arbor time; I had left at 8pm). The guest house is quite nice, no different than any mid-level hotel, very new, and my room had huge windows facing a nice patch of woods. You can see pictures in the gallery.

Comparing only the campuses, I’d say Argonne is certainly nicer than CERN (though CERN still wins hands down if you consider the surounding mountains and lake). The buildings are in a couple large groups with a few others scattered around. Between the buildings is a good quantity of trees and a few significant hills. Argonne is surrounded by the nice Waterfall Glen Forest Reserve that I visited on my way out Satuday morning.
At least the part of the conference that I attended seemed to go fine. It went a bit late, as these things always do. My talk went fine, the content and presentation wasn’t anything very groundshaking though. At dinner I was surprised to discover that they use the Guest House much like any other hotel; kids from a Lutheran highschool were arriving in tuxedos and gowns for a dinner and dance. It is surprising because access to the site is somewhat restricted, so there is the slight hassle of registration before you arrive, but maybe it is the only hotel with a ballroom in the area. The first evidence of the event was the DJ unloading his equipment at the door of the hotel. Initially I mistook his lighting equiptment (a ball with colored panels attached to a motor) for some sort of fascinating scientific appuratus.Before going to bed I helped Bing grade the final exams for her class. The problems looked like fun ones, but grading is always a painful thing to do. Bing was nice enough to give me the easier problems to grade.

I accidently set the horribly designed clock radio&emdash;the buttons that set the time should never be the easiest ones to press&emdash;ahead two hours when I groggily groped for the snooze button Saturday morning. I lept out of bed in a panic a few minutes later when I woke, checked the clock, and thought I had just slept for two hours. The result was that I got going earlier than you would expect from a chronologically retarded person such as myself. There were so many people parked around the entrance to Waterfall Glen as I was leaving I thought I had to stop by and check it out. It is a very nice place for a stroll, run, or a bike ride. I even saw a few people with horses. The falls aren’t spectacular, but just walking through the woods or along the river is nice enough.

There are pictures in the gallery.


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