Sunday, February 13, 2011

Caught up

  It has taken the better part of a day, but I'm now just about caught up in my blogging.  The mystery 70's porn star in the previous post was, of course, none other than our very own Markus Tum, down for the weekend to come to the party.  We also went to a fun local music gig the night before.  Markus, it was great to have you down here!

  The morning after the Faschingsparty, bright and early (rather too early, in fact), I took a train to Zurich, where I've been for the last two weeks, working on a project at the Institute of Systematic Botany.  "Systematic" has to do with systematics, which is more or less the science of understanding the branching pattern of evolutionary history: deciding what's a species and what's not, assigning names to species, figuring out when they diverged, and so forth.  I'm not a systematist, but I play one on TV I work with them sometimes because I'm also interested in the process of evolutionary branching and speciation.  I'm working on a model with several folks there to investigate a particular idea about how speciation might work in some flowering plants.  Tell you more, and I'd have to kill you, as the saying goes, except that I'd probably bore you to death first.

  I didn't bring my camera to Zurich, so I have no photos for you.  I stayed in the botanical gardens, which are right next to the Institute, so I had about a three-minute walk to work each morning through the gardens.  Best commute I've ever had.  Here's a photo of the gardens from the web:

  Of course it didn't look quite like that, in winter.  The Martian domes are greenhouses, in which they have really wonderful exhibits of tropical rainforest and so forth.  Their desert/succulent area made me miss California and New Mexico quite viscerally; I was a bit startled by the strength of the emotions it brought up!  They look black because they have, unexpectedly, darkened due to photochemical reactions; replacing them with new plexiglass that is properly transparent again is a current goal of the Institute.

  My little apartment was behind the domes, to the left, and the Institute is essentially just to the right of the photographer, up a short hill.

  Mostly I worked a whole lot while I was there.  I only went out to see Zurich a few times, mostly in the evenings after work.  Anyhow, it's not a bad city (very clean!), but it's insanely expensive, so I mostly just stayed in my apartment and ate ramen that I had brought in my suitcase from Vienna.  Really.  I'm a graduate student, ya know?  This is my life: travel to foreign cities and eat ramen.

  However I did have one really fun day out and about.  I went, with two friends from the Institute, to Pizol, a mountain ski resort.  There we rented snowshoes, took three cable cars up the side of the mountain to the highest foothold of civilization, and snowshoed up from there to a pass overlooking the mountain's peak.  It was really wonderful.  I've never snowshoed before, but I will definitely do it again. The traction you have is just incredible; the snowshoes have blades on their underside that cut down into the snow and ice and make it almost impossible to slip unless you're walking on a very steep slope in deep powder.  We walked for several hours, got back to civilization, and had hot soup and various yummy hot drinks at wooden tables outside while gazing on the mountains we had just been trekking on.  Eventually we took the cable cars back down and came back to Zurich.  Photos from my friend's cell phone may be forthcoming eventually, but he has been slow emailing them.

  Back in Zurich, we went to a thermal spa that was quite nice.  Expensive, like everything in Zurich, and it turned out that the entrance fee we paid didn't even get us into many areas, including the hot pool; but we had fun in a steam room, a warm pool, an open-air pool on the top of the building with a view across downtown Zurich, and so forth.  It was a great way to relax after exercising hard all day.  Unfortunately, I slipped on some stone steps and got quite a large bruise on my tuchus; but really I got lucky, a slip on steps like that could have turned out a whole lot worse.  More than a week later, the bruise is still hard, purple, and as big as a softball; but having had an even bigger hematoma once (rollerblading accident) I'm not worried, and it doesn't hurt much any more.

  I also had another exciting medical adventure while in Zurich: a blood vessel in the white part of my eye (the sclera, maybe?) burst, and now one half of one of my eyes is bright red, like the Terminator.  Totally cool.  I freaked out and went to a clinic to get looked at, but apparently these things happen, and I just have to wait and it will get better on its own.

  The work in Zurich ended inconclusively.  I completed the initial phase of development of the model I was to write, which was good; but it appears that my model demonstrates that the effect we were hoping to see is, in fact, impossible, which is bad.  Back to the drawing board.  But for those who claim that modeling is pointless because you just get out whatever assumptions you put in, I ask: why, then, am I having to come up with a new idea for one of my thesis chapters?

  I took the train back from Zurich yesterday.  Three loads of laundry and countless blog entries later, I am now ready to go back in to IIASA tomorrow morning to resume my work there, which is presently a bit bogged down in data analysis, but seems to be coming along.  Vienna is colder than Zurich (which was remarkably warm; didn't need a coat some days), and it has been snowing lightly.  In three weeks, I'll finish my work at IIASA (for the time being, anyway), and will fly up to Sweden for a couple of days in Stockholm, a week-long workshop in Abisko (north of the Arctic Circle!  check it out on Google Maps!), a few more days in Stockholm (to get low airfares, basically, although I can't say I mind), and then, finally, home to Montreal.  So the final days of this European adventure are counting down.  I doubt I'll blog much more for a while; it's mostly going to be work, work, work until I get to Stockholm, at least.

  So yes, I may have filled up your reader with innumerable posts today; but you will miss me soon.  Maybe not today.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But soon, and for the rest of your life.  But it doesn't take much to see that the blog of one little person doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.  Someday you'll understand that.

  Until then, auf wiedersehen!

No comments:

Post a Comment