Big news!

June 19th this year was a big day for me: it marked the four-year anniversary for my wife and I.

It’s also the day our daughter, Caroline, was born.

I now have a tiny person who, with my wife, I need to care for, raise, teach, learn from, listen to, and generally inspire to be the best person she can.

This is going to be awesome.

Cool things seen today

While not a large city, Bern is the national capital of Switzerland and strategically located in regards to train travel.

Thus, the main train station is a hub for all sorts of stuff: local commuter rail, intercity trains, high-speed international trains going to or coming from France, Germany, etc.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a steam locomotive with old-fashioned passenger cars cruising through the station next to its modern, electrified counterparts.

I’m not really a train buff, but that’s pretty cool to see.

Back in the saddle…sort of

So, good news: after two years of spilling liquid nitrogen on myself, pulling my hair out, hitting multi-million-dollar instruments with a socket wrench, and crying into beer late into the night I finally got my masters degree a few months ago.

Better news: I also got accepted for the PhD student gig here doing much the same work, which is fun, and for better pay, which is better. While it’s a lot of work, I can focus on my research and not have pesky classes taking up my time.

Mixed feelings: I’m still in Switzerland. This is a fantastic country and I love living here (though my German is pretty rough). We’ve settled in nicely and are doing well, but my wife and I miss the friends and family back home. Sure, we’ve got some friends here but living in a country where one has only a basic command of the language and spends ~10 hours a day in the lab is somewhat…limiting in a social sense. I haven’t been to the range in ages but maybe I’ll get a chance in November when I head back to the US for a whirlwind tour of weddings, Thanksgiving, and visiting friends and family.

Bad news: Now that my schedule is a bit more relaxed less frantic, I should be able to spare a bit of time for writing here. You poor bastards.

On Commenters

Say what you will about the quality (or lack thereof) of government officials, I’m just exceedingly glad that the people who comment on news websites are not in charge. Holy crap, the stupid burns.

I suppose newspaper editors would have always had to deal with various deranged Letters to the Editor, but I was able to retain some faith in humanity because the editor would use some discretion to weed out the most absurd, crazy letters and so I’d only see the mostly-sane letters that they’d publish.

The Internet has served to enhance communication for people all over the world, and for that I’m pleased, but it’s also served to bring the crazies out of the woodwork. Some times it makes me want to disconnect and go hide.

That said, YouTube commenters are by far the worst, but I guess I’ve adapted to that and consider YouTube to be a video side with a side of fresh stupidity. I’ve not yet wrapped my mind around the same thing with news site comments.

Nice Weather

Switzerland’s warming up a bit, with weather being sunny and warm for the most part. Trees have fully grown back their leaves, there’s a pleasant breeze, and things have been going well in the lab. So far, this year’s doing pretty good by me.

This weather reminds me of one of the great things that Europe has to offer the world: sidewalk cafes. Sure, there’s outdoor seating at a lot of eateries in the US, but it’s just not the same as walking down the street, sitting down at a random cafe, having a drink, and watching the world go by. A simple, laid-back sidewalk cafe on a side street in Bern is great, but it’s nothing compared to the cafes in Paris. Truly one of life’s great pleasures.

Travels to Egypt

As some might recall, I traveled to Egypt and Jordan over the winter holiday. My wife and I took around 4,000 photos — we’ll spare you all the details and just stick to the highlights.

Both nations were fantastic: everywhere we went the people were pleasant, the sites stunning, and the food delicious. Everywhere was steeped with history. This post is briefly about Egypt, with a soon-to-follow post about Jordan.

At the time (about a year after the January demonstrations in 2011), Cairo had a bit of reputation for being unsafe and so there was essentially no tourists anywhere there. Fortunately, Cairo was quite safe and we ran into no trouble whatsoever and got to benefit from the lack of crowds at the various attractions; unfortunately, you could tell that business was slow for a lot of tourism-dependent merchants. Outside of Cairo there was a lot more tourists — the majority of tourists in Aswan and Luxor were Russians — and business seemed to be better, though the guides said that tourism has definitely been down since the revolution.

One of the great highlights of Egypt is, of course, the Pyramids of Giza. It should go without saying, but the pyramids are really big.

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Been Busy, No Shooting

Hi folks,

Things here in Switzerland have been exceedingly busy.Who knew that pursuing a graduate degree in physics would require time and effort?

While my wife has been having a lovely time, meeting new people, and traveling around to nearby European countries, I’ve been madly studying, programming, and otherwise keeping busy.

Even though Switzerland is known for being a gun-friendly place, I haven’t had a chance to go shooting since I got here. It probably doesn’t help that my German is awful (I can order drinks at the bar but otherwise it’s terrible; language has never been one of my strengths). Perhaps in the new year?

When I’m focused on my work, I don’t really have much time to be homesick, but on the few occasions when I have some time off I really miss home — the locations, the people, the food, even some of the familiar brand names and businesses. Switzerland is without a doubt a wonderful country, but I spend so much time in the lab and classroom that I don’t really get a chance to meet people, practice my German, and integrate well. My wife’s having a better time at it, for sure.

We’re really looking forward to Christmas — my parents and sister are flying out here and we’re going to celebrate Christmas here. Afterwards, we’ll be traveling to Egypt and Jordan for about two weeks. Gotta get more stamps in the passport!

As the semester closes in a few weeks, I should hopefully have some more time to post. Otherwise, I’m really bogged down with work. Sorry.

School’s In Session

So, Monday was my first day at graduate school. So far, I’m a bit less worried about the whole “grad school” thing as I am with the “learning to speak advanced German necessary for doing advanced physics”.

While the program information mentioned that the classes would all be conducted in English, this is not the case: several are in English, but a few have English lectures and German-language handouts/PowerPoints, one has German lectures and English handouts/PowerPoints, while another is all-German.

Being that the local language here is German and the majority of students are Swiss, I don’t fault them for wanting to teach the majority of students in their native language. I’ve privately met with professors to discuss the issue, and they’re willing to be flexible and work with me so that I can succeed. That’s nice.

Fortunately, I am very much a learn-by-reading person, so I was pleased when one professor recommended a few textbooks that would get me the same information as the lectures.

The whole situation is mildly frustrating, to be certain, but it gives me more incentive to study harder. It also gives me an excuse to improve my German.

Note to those looking to study in a country or region that does not speak their native language: caveat emptor. Even though the courses here are listed as being conducted in English, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Relocation Update

Greetings from Bern!

My wife and I moved out here two weeks ago and are in our temporary apartment in Bern while we search for more permanent housing. So far, so good.

It’s rather amusing to see off-duty soldiers (both in uniform and out) carrying slung SIG SG 550 rifles on the bus as they head home. It’s evidently such an ingrained part of Swiss cuture that nobody so much as bats an eye.

More updates as they happen.