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better days

June 4, 2015


It is sunny this morning. The June Gloom broke! Finally!

I thought I would update this space today. Because, among other things, today, the LHC had its first collisions at 13TeV. A new era of high energy particle physics starts today. Or not. I don’t think we really know.

I met one of my former students on the bus up the hill to the lab– he has a summer position with a research group. I’m so excited for him. 

It’s been a long time since I posted anything.  Nearly a year. If you hadn’t noticed from the last sporadic posts on this blog, these years there have been times when I’ve been powerfully unhappy. Graduate school is long and confusing.

In the hallway of the building I catch a snippet of a conversation in French. 

Spending 2012 at CERN was such a huge year– it felt like everything that ever happened to me worth telling happened then– and it sometimes feels like hardly any time has passed since. Although it must have. Now I like quantum mechanics a lot more than I did then, and on top of that I have spent two years teaching the very class that as an undergrad made me think experimental physics could actually be a bit of fun. I also, incidentally, now know that the ol’ “your op-amp could be busted” line is somewhat of a cop-out answer from a GSI.

A guy introduces himself to me, he works down the hall. I shake his hand. It’s wet. 

For a twist of fate: I also now know why Statistisk Termodynamik was so much easier for that PhD student at Lund than it was for me at the time. Turns out, having five more years of physics under your belt and taking subjects more than once really helps out quite a bit. Last year I got my first 100% test exam score in physics on a elementary-level statistical mechanics exam I was forced to take. Take that undergrads!

My code to the lab door is wonderfully geometric. 

But there’s still the unhappy times. I’ve spent the last two years wandering around several research groups, not asking for what I really wanted because part of me always believes I am too stupid to really participate in this whole physics game. I am often afraid. Apparently this feeling is a thing. A not uncommon thing.

Wow, I still can’t believe I saw an entire class of my own students graduate.

I took a near-year-long expedition towards a subject for which I have so much respect (not sarcastic) because it is really, just so hard.

In the end, the end being now (in case you haven’t sensed that this is the end), I find myself somewhere where I never thought I’d end up: Condensed Matter. Like atoms in lattices and stuff. But it’s alright so far. It’s all about symmetry. I like the lasers. There’s a lot of Potential Applications, which is great but it’s not quite as thrilling as the prospect of staring straight at the bare guts of reality. But Physics is different now, and I’m not sure I’d ever make anything out of the guts anyway. The experiments are easy (relatively) but the physics is hard and often approximate.

I bike down the hill to pick up a tube of vacuum grease from the delivery office on campus, planning to meet the bus at the stop on Euclid to skip the steep ride up. As I roll up to the stop, I see the bus has already left, but is stopped at the stoplight. I glance up the hill were the next stop is, the crossing signal reads ten seconds. SPRINT!  

On my ride home from work today, the fog was back and was relentless. The Bay Area: Where it is cloudy every day but it doesn’t even deign to rain. In my mind, yes, I still do escape to SwitzaFrance, to the warm green summer punctuated by raucous, fantastic downpour and pbar shifts.

There’s nothing like beating the bus. Or the tram. 

So Daily Saga readers, of which there are probably none remaining, I think this is it for now. For this space. When everything becomes too familiar, it’s harder to find things to say. Perhaps that was the original challenge for the blog, though I’ve not done a very good job with it as of late. Perhaps I’ll do it again, somewhere else, sometime soon.

It’s been wonderful to have a place to mercilessly dramatize the mundane and otherwise, exercise vanity, babble in Swedish, and mope a bit. It’s been a long journey here. Thanks for reading.

bye, hej då, au revoir, ciao

Mässa kram! Bisous!

The last two months…

September 2, 2013

You may be worried that this blog has died. Or, you may be, you know, not worried.

Anyway, here we are again. Ramadan came and went. I (predictably) have not gained any ground in Arabic. I did give a presentation about that thing I worked on this summer, and also experienced an acute feeling of stomachlessness upon discovering that that thing did in fact not work in the way I thought it did, a mere fifteen minutes before said presentation.

After that, I ate about a half-kilogram of hand-imported Fontina (not all at once), made it in and out of Yosemite before it caught on fire, watched a Miyzaki film, said goodbye to three great friends and acquired fifty more I have yet to really know, moved to a new house, cried in public (twice), tried over the course of three weeks to remember everything I ever learned in undergrad (and failed), turned in three written exams and one blank one (statistisk termodynamik, du slår mig varje gång), spoke French in public (twice, bad idea), decided to quit grad school, decided that I couldn’t quit something I hadn’t started, started grad school, taught in an undergraduate lab, rode my bike, and ate a burrito.

Focus, for me, seems at the moment impossible. Unfortunately, focus is precisely what I need now, at the start of this new whirlwind. It is still surreal to me to be in the position were someone (probably the American taxpayer) is paying me to learn. It is an astounding, once-in-a-lifetime chance; a position of immense privilege. Hopefully I’ll find some way of living and working here which I can be more than satisfied with. At least I have to try.

Here’s to the next 5 years!

Back to regular writing on Le Blog now, I promise.


Full light on the face of Half Dome, pre-sunset from the Yosemite Falls trail.


January 13, 2013

I promised you I had a lot to say, and I do, but…

Instead I’m sitting, battling some horrendous mutation of the cold my grandfather had last week, staring dryly at research group websites that probably haven’t been updated since 2004, trying to squeeze some essence of my scientific self, my CERN alter-ego, the strange person who I still do not fully believe exists, into a page or two of words and make it sound alright, or at the very least, not stupid. I have been doing this off and on for nearly a month now. Succinctly: I am sick and sick of all of it.

For now, in my haze, I have listened to this three times today. It’s mad and awesome, and apparently, it is the best selling solo piano record of all time.

thanks to S.S. for the music tip.

L’automne, le doute

October 21, 2012

I left CERN a few evenings ago tailed by the cloud of disenchantment that has been hovering over my shoulder for the past year and a half. I thought  I felt  a few drops of rain. I ignored them.

Such swirling doubt is something I have to forget about for the next few weeks at least as I prepare to take the Physics graduate entrance exam (GRE) for US schools. Wether or not it ends up mattering, whether or not I end up going to a school in the US or elsewhere or any school at all hardly matters for the next few weeks. I need to take this test and I need to do well; I have to (choke) focus. I can find myself later. And in the meantime I will practice finding Lagranians and electric fields and wave functions (in under a minute!). I will take study breaks by riding the local massif, the indomitable Salève and find that its forests have turned to gold, in the light of this surging season!

Alpine sunrise from the Booster tunnel; Mont Blanc included.

Back side of Le Salève, in autumn dress, and below:

Up the face of Salève to Les Croisettes, Fall! A wonder for the California-bred.

Winter is coming

September 29, 2012

When it rains it pours, pours, pours.  I know the summer is gone because I’ve started to wear ski gloves on the bike; I look like a tool but at least my fingers are warm as I glide down Route de Meyrin at midnight. And it will only get worse: I will stay here until December, now in the hopes of seeing both antimatter and snow. December, not so distant December. We went  already through the part of the year were everyone else seemed to disappear to a proverbial Paris with their girlfriends. But oh, they came back. Yes, they always do. Oh, how I want to go to Paris. Not just the proverbial one. But the rain, the rain, the rain reminds me that now it really is time to buckle down and button up. What is next, what is after December? Oh, I don’t know. I never do.


If you get the reference in the title of this post: You my friend, are a hopeless nerd. Welcome to the club.


August 29, 2012

For a week it sweltered: Limbs stuck together, power supplies failed, the makeup of women on the tram melted, and potted plants just sighed and gave up. My skin couldn’t take it: I bought plane tickets North.

But before I managed to escape, the temperature dropped mercifully in a soundless rush. Every year autumn never loses its acuity: Outside of the building the air was thick with moisture and grey with electricity. Nearby I saw a small Romanian man welding a long metal beam; the torch was bright and white and blazed like the engorged eyes of a terrified animal. I looked at it a long time. I could not look away and thought only of Magnesium, Magnesium. I looked too long, I suppose. When I shut my eyes, the diffuse outline of it still burned there for a moment. And then, thunderclap, downpour.

When the morning came I thought, my God: but that the sunflower fields have gone fallow and that there are leaves and rotting crabapples littering the ground. Curls of smoke spill slowly, tangled, out of the edges of the shadows which grow longer each time I look. Is it just my vision, or is the sky clearer than before and what’s more, changing color?

Höstkant without homecoming. For me, a first.

Ride Report: Gran Combin

August 26, 2012

Needless to say, I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this report. Le Blog has come otherwise to a standstill and this post blocking the floodgates. So here it comes, an incomplete sketch as it is.

Lessons Learned:

1. Alpine mountain biking demands total corporeal focus: You must simultaneously hold your bursting lungs inside of your chest, stalwart your legs against collapse, and be sure of your step. Your eyes will be bright in the beaming reflection of all that surrounds you, and, you will be carrying your bike.

2. Alpine mountain biking is subject to the whims of that capricious clime: Be prepared for everything. As this, this is the stuff of myth, expect nothing less. You will discover that your pride is nothing compared to the mountain.

3. Alpine mountain biking is not for the faint of legs, arms, mind, or heart.

…………..Day 1……………….

Fionnay, Switzerland.

Around each switchback on the drive into Fionnay, I prayed like mad for sun. Just around this turn, it will be sunny. Just around this turn the rain will stop. It didn’t.  A quarter of an hour later we found ourselves circled round a wooden table in an empty café, a map splayed out before us. Seven clean faces stared back at me over espressos,  excitement painted with the anxiety of venturing into some deep unknown. Rain, rain. A thunderclap, des tonnere et eclair. Allons y!


I watched the back wheel in front of me roll into the puddle, splash, roll out. I followed, but not closely enough. In an instant my own front wheel vanished before me. In concussive hues I saw myself from above, projected in slow motion. I saw it all: the bike flipping, the mud splashing up, my back and the bike on top of me, submerged five centimeters in mud, and then, darkness.

Can someone pull my bike off me, please?

I was covered in mud and hence jumped in the next alpine lake we came across. It was, predictably, very cold.

Col de Mille

Soon enough it became too steep to ride; the altitude and the rock strewn, treacherously slippery trail did not make it easier. We walked, we climbed, we forded streams and relayed the heavy bike up the mountain. Everything was wet and everything was happening in slow motion.

At the refuge there is woodstove, a woman, and a girl. In the pasture outside a donkey grazes happily; callous to the chaotic weather. As we remount our bikes to descend down the sodden mountainside, I’m left wondering if they rode the donkey up.

Col du Grand Saint Bernard

It is truly a pity to have gone over the Grand St Bernard pass and not to have seen any of it; Once we were forced to abandon the trail and take the road up the on the Swiss side, the rain came in from everywhere. Visibility was at best a couple of meters, and I didn’t even realize I was at the Col until buildings appeared beside us: Shops, restaurants, and the hospice, the fabled hospice! I can imagine it was all very beautiful, but I cannot say for certain.

Once over the Italian border the road curved gently down the mountainside and the sun shone onto undiscovered country. My brain, in its predictably campy fashion, was busy dancing about the Roman Empire. For a moment I managed to forget that everything, everything, is wet; all that matters is the road, the road, the flowing road! And, where, oh where, are the elephants?


Allora, allora. the waitress said. She pressed her hands together, smiled hugely,and took our orders. I’m outed as a vegetarian, but it hardly matters: there’s food I can eat, here it is dry, and the hotel has enormous wool blankets. Heaven.

……………………..Day 2…………………..

We awoke the next day to find the sun, as promised by the Italian Optimists. Oh the first climb was glorious and long, a nameless browngold road winding 14 kilmeters through Italian suburbs with names I cannot remember before spilling out into the mountains. Even from the first kilometer I wanted to go hard. I was in the climbing place, a place I personally have only recently discovered exists within myself: Yes, I now can say, in complete and utter honestly, that I love to climb. And so I climbed.

It wasn’t long before Stefano caught up with me and asked me what I had eaten for breakfast. Muesli, I said. What I did not say was that, really, my pace (admittedly far from blistering) was not sustained by the solely by the muesli. Instead, I was really propelled by some locomotive of imagination, generated by the scenery, by taking off my helmet, and by secretly pretending for the entire climb that I was one of these guys:

Bartali, Coppi. Coppi, Bartali.

Ride the bike!

Frenêtre du Dunand

A near vertical ascent, a climb, the bike across the back. At the pass (2797m) you could look down on the glacier and hear the ice cracking through the millennia.

Downhill, downhill: Across the Swiss border again and into rocks bigger than my fork can handle, a few sections of flow, and a trail hugging the edge of the glacier. We rolled over the tops of waterfalls and through lantern lit caverns. We ended up at a dam at the edge of a slender turquoise lake. Our descent to from there was warm and brief Fionnay, back to the car, a piece of tart at Relais du Grand Saint Bernard, which I didn’t know I needed until I took the first bite, and a ride back to Geneva.

Vive les alpes!


How lucky am I, to have friends who dream up such insanity?!

Beam, and other things

June 14, 2012

Just a few things since I last wrote here, ages ago. At some point there is just too much to say it all. 

1. First of all, beam. In our experiment, in a somewhat useful fashion.

2. I am certain my cover is blown: my blog statistics tell me that people are now searching my real name along with the word ‘blog’ and hitting this site before hitting that other, more legitimate, publication I used to write for. What’s more, someone in Switzerland viewed this site 72 times today. Really, whoever you are, do I know you and is all this babble that interesting to you?

3. Col du Grand Colombier. Long in the past, but a ride report is still worthwhile.

4. I “Raced” my mountain bike in France and succeeded in: winning the women’s category by default, eating chocolate at feed stations, and making the wrong turn only twice whilst receiving cheery Francophonic encouragement from smiling hikers, small children, and middle aged men. Afterward, I came home, watched 3 hours straight of Game of thrones*  and then went to CERN for the rest of the night.

5. A visit from friends from the US! Although I had to leave them largely to their own devices in terms of Genevan amusement, it is always so wonderful to see familiar faces!

5. Football. Football. Football. If you are anywhere in Europe right now then you know. Floods of horn blowing people, sirens, insanity. For some reason I thought today was Friday and so, despite a sore throat, I cycled to the Geneva stadium to try and get a glimpse of the Sweden vs. England match on the enormous screen they’ve set up out front. At once I was surrounded by millions of Iberian looking people. My God, I realized, it’s in fact thursday, this is Spain vs. Ireland, and the Spanish Genevois are out in full force. Every person there appeared to be Spanish. At once, I was painfully aware of the fact that I just might look sort of Irish. this was confirmed to me two minutes later when a guy turned to me and asked, in very bad English “heheeey, are you Irish?” He had that reckless drunken gleam in his eyes, and I just didn’t have the energy to think it was funny even if, in all honesty, it sort of was. So I went home.

6. Men imorgon kväll… då blir det fredag på riktig. Jaaa. tack och lov.


* Yes, really. NerdAlert. It’s actually good, I swear!

Public Service Announcement

April 18, 2012

I know this is against the very fibre of the internet, but:

If you know me in Real Life and read this blog regularly, and I don’t already know that you read this blog regularly,* I just want to let you know, we can talk about it. It’s cool. Just sayin’: Everything here, on this blog, is primarily for self-referential purposes. Writing to an audience forces me to attempt to use proper grammar. Secondarily it is for a few fans (you know who you are).

It’s just that WordPress lets me see page views by country, so, for the most part, I know comfortably almost exactly who is reading. However, my statistics have been climbing lately and, trust me, I do not advertise or drive traffic! I often do the opposite: I don’t tag posts, I don’t post to Facebook, I try not to use my name nor, as of late, the real names of others. I’m just curious who else is out there.

Drop me a line. Leave me a comment. Or, tell me at lunch. If you dare.


* Hi, you guys.

…men ej skiljas…

December 23, 2011

…från vännen min, utan att fälla tårar.