Saturday, May 29, 2010

French Riviera

Life is hard sometimes.

For example, this week I had to go visit a customer site on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in the French Riviera.

I was forced to enjoy the perfect weather, drink wine, toast a Pastisse and eat gourmet French food in the harbour of Cassis at sunset.

After having to put up with a trip like that, it was comforting to return to my homebase at the foot of the French Alps.

I'm not sure I'll recover from this terrible imposition on my quality of life. Please, send gifts and cookies...

Side note: today I'm whizzing over the French countryside on the TGV high speed train from Lyon, bound for Paris. I made a mistake when boarding so I'm "stuck" in first class on my second class ticket!

Meandering through the countryside has its charms... but ripping along at 400km/hr, scaring stunned looking cows and leaving a veritable sonic boom in my wake is far more my style! Have to go, my chocolate mousse just arrived.

-- Mobile post

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Geneva, Switzerland

My weekend wasn't ALL "nerding it up" at CERN, I also "nerded up" by visiting the United Nations, the International Red Cross and strolling the shores of Lake Geneva.

Geneva is home to the headquarters of many UN agencies as well as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. It is perhaps most famous for the signing of the Geneva Convention which outlined the treatment of prisoners of war.

That said, no one laughed when I said "I'm here for the Convention..." so it must not be very topical with the locals anymore!

Here's a summary of my weekend in photos:

Lion statue, Brunswick Monument, Geneva.

The United Nations, Geneva.

Broken chair, symbol of the UN campaign to rid the world of landmines and cluster bombs as per the Ottawa Treaty of 1997, in front of the UN.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum at the founding headquarters, Geneva.

Rhone river crossing, Geneva.

Near my hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva.

Panormic shot of the shores of Lake Geneva (click to enlarge).

The Rolex-friendly neighbourhood.

The Jet d'Eau (water jet), spewing water 135m in the air! (click to enlarge)

A village on the border of France and Switzerland on the train ride back.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

CERN and the Big Bang

I had some free time this weekend which is a nice change of pace from the norm on these trips.

So where does a nerd like me go on vacation? The Large Hadron Collider at the particle physics research laboratory at CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland, of course!

CERN was founded by some of Europe's leading scientists shortly after the bomb was dropped in WWII as a Nuclear research laboratory with the aim of "doing some good" with the "terrible knowledge".

Over the years, CERN has written the book on particle physics with wide reaching applications for mankind. Everything from PET Scans (Positron Emission Tomography: used alongside CT scans to help doctors evaluate how well organs are functioning) to the creation of superconductors in ultra-high voltage motors, oil and gas production, etc.

CERN even made this blog post possible. When Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN, invented the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989 as a means of sharing information with other scientists around the world, his invention was called "vague.. but exciting". On April 30, 1993, CERN announced that the World Wide Web would be free to anyone, with no fees due, changing the way we learn about and see the world around us.

Their latest effort is called "the Grid": thousands upon thousands of computers working cooperatively in tandem to crunch about 10 Petabytes (1 petabyte=1000Tb) of data every year, instantly sharing the results with the international community. To put that in perspective, that's the equivalent of 15 million CD's worth of data, a line that would stretch 15 km long when stacked on their THIN side!

After admiring the computer that was used as the world's first "web" server, I was allowed to enter the "Atlas" particle detection unit of the Large Hadron Collider!

The LHC is a huge proton accelerator that stretches 26 kms around and is burried 100m below the surface of the earth. Particles are accelerated in opposite directions to near light-speed by huge magnets in the tubes. Once the particles reach the appropriate speed, they are put onto a collision course with one another.

The resulting catastrophe yields particles that haven't been created since the big bang itself, allowing scientists to observe Quarks, Gluons, Muons and Bozon particles (ie. the particles that make up atoms) via huge arrays of particle detectors in the collision chambers.

The LHC came online with some controversy as theories abounded that microscopic black holes could be produced during the collisions, instantly consuming the earth. Not to worry, if Einstein's theory of relativity is correct, we have nothing to worry about. If he forgot to "carry the one", well... so far, he appears to have been right!

This is the control room of the Atlas chamber of the LHC. The software they're using looks suspiciously familiar to what my company produces. Sure hope they had reeeeeeeally solid commissioning standards and UAT!

A section of the LHC outside the Atlas experiment.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grenoble, France

walk signals in GrenobleI've arrived in Grenoble, France, home of the 1968 Winter Olympics.

Nestled at the base of the French Alps, Grenoble is probably the most "European" city I've ever been to. The winding little pedestrian streets draw you in and entice you deeper and deeper into the heart of the city, where people roam from cafe to shop with no fear of being run down by cars.

Even the "walk / don't walk" signs have a great nonchalance to them (as shown)!

Grenoble has the feel of a tiny village at the base of the snow-capped mountains and yet 158,552 people call it home. I honestly don't know where they put them all because I'd have estimated it at around 10,000 people.

One great thing is that it stays light until 9pm! After living in Australia where it's dark by 6pm year round, that's become a huge novelty to me. The shops and cafes all stay open and people mill about the streets with a great sense of community.

Here's a look (in classic low quality grainy phone photos):

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sweet Silver

I just landed in Singapore and I'm always blown away by the sheer number of ships in the bay.

I'm excited because I'm just a few kilometers away from being upgraded to a Silver card frequent flyer! I know many gold and platinum members but I've never been one myself. This last leg brought me to the crux, the next leg puts me over!

By my estimation, I should be passing over Dubai (in about 8 hours) when they'll have to pull the airplane over so the pilot can come back and issue me my new card. I expect they'll have dancers and a pyro-technics show, but I'm keeping my expectations in check.

From now on, it's a life of priority check-in lines, lounge access, premium seats and one extra item of carry-on luggage. I'll look all snooty and self important as I board before the other passengers while flight attendants call me by name, passing me wine and caviar in the boarding bridge.

Life is good! It's clearly the little things that keep me going.

-- Mobile post

Monday, May 3, 2010

Travel Tips Part 5: Packing with Purpose

This last one is for everyone, even bi-peds.

I had planned to leave this series of posts at four until I read an article from an in-flight magazine on the way to Melbourne this weekend.

The article made an impact on me so I'm going to shamelessly paraphrase it here:

Next time you fly somewhere, you'll likely leave a little spare room in your suitcase for souvenirs or anything else you might pick up along the way.

You can put that extra room to very good use thanks to an organization called

If you're travelling to a developing community, consider packing school supplies for children such as crayons, pencils, pens and board games. Some areas may even benefit from basic over-the-counter medicines and analgesics. has country-by-country lists of supplies needed in each region as well as lists of hotels, airlines, etc who participate in the program as drop-off locations. It's easy, convenient and makes a world of difference.

Before you fly again, check out!

-- Mobile post