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.

On Moving

I preparation for our move to Switzerland, my wife and I have been going through all of our possessions. Some items, like clothes, computers, silverware, and dishes are getting boxed up and prepped for shipping.
Other items, which we’d like to keep but can’t justify bringing to Europe (or which won’t work with the electricity there), are getting boxed up to bring to the homes of our respective parents, who have been kind enough to donate some attic space for our boxes.
Then there’s the crap. Holy moly, is there crap. We’re not hoarders by any stretch, but when you put three people (two of whom are teachers) into a smallish two-bedroom condo, clutter seems to accumulate rapidly. There’s reams of papers, mostly in binders, that relate to school stuff (lesson plans and the like), posters and other in-class stuff, and so on. In going through the closets, there’s a huge amount of clothes that haven’t been worn for years (that goes straight to Goodwill), old electronics, and so on.
In the last month or so, we’ve taken probably a dozen kitchen garbage bags worth of clothes to Goodwill, recycled a bunch of old electronics, and shredded or recycled a massive amount of paper. We sold the bed (and moved to the futon), then sold the futon (and moved to an air mattress loaned from a friend). The tropical fish and their stand has been moved to a friend’s house for the duration. All that’s left is the TV (anyone in the Phoenix area want a 32-inch flat-panel 720p CRT TV and black IKEA TV stand?), a few bookshelves, a desk (anyone want an IKEA desk?), two chairs, and the computer.
Sure, it’s not spring anymore, but we’ve taken spring cleaning to a whole new level.
Now, to keep things this simple when we’re in Europe…

Educational Updates

Long time, no post.
The results are in: I was accepted into three graduate schools: the University of Oslo in Norway, and the Universities of Zurich and Bern in Switzerland.
All are fine research institutions, but I ended up going with Bern, as it combined excellent research with a much more reasonable cost of living than Zurich or Oslo. We’ll be moving at the end of July.
In short, I’ll be spending the next two years of my life at a place like this:

Well, not quite. I’ll actually be in the science building, but it’s right next to the fancy old university building. I’ll probably be in the basement, though. Oh well.

It looks a lot nicer on the inside.
Alas, as the Swiss are nearly universally excellent shooters, it’s unlikely that there’ll be any need for me to introduce new shooters to the sport. Oh well. All the New Shooter Ammo Fund ammo is marked and store separately here in the US, so it’ll be available for teaching new shooters when I return to the US.
While the Swiss do permit me to import firearms for personal use, there’s a nominal bit of paperwork involved and I don’t want to deal with the hassle during the main move. Perhaps I’ll get the guns when I come back for holidays or something.
Much of my time in the next few months will be spent preparing for the move, so posting may be lighter than usual (amazingly enough).
I know it’s been a while since I last posted, which is mostly due to living in Arizona (arguably the least-restrictive state in regards to firearms laws, which makes things really boring when it comes to writing about firearms-related legal developments) and not having the time or money to get out and shoot as often as I’d like. Hopefully after moving to Switzerland, I’ll have a bit more opportunity to shoot. We’ll see.

On Couchsurfing

Since I live in the Phoenix area (my wife has a condo there) and work in Tucson during the week, I’ve been couch-surfing with friends during the work week for the last year. This has allowed me to not need to get a separate apartment, thus saving hundreds of dollars a month. In exchange for housing, I maintain my friend’s cars, computers, and do other such tasks. So far, it’s worked out pretty well for both parties.
Imagine my interest when I discovered CouchSurfing.org. In essence, it consists of people willing to provide a place to sleep for others. It’s not meant to be permanent, but is geared towards a similar group of people as those who stay in hostels whilst traveling. Hosts and visitors have a profile page which also includes reviews from other CSers, so one can be reasonably assured that they’ll not inviting in an axe murderer or crazy person. Very cool concept, and something that my wife and I will take advantage of when we move to Europe and travel frequently.
Hostels are inexpensive and nice (for the most part), but you don’t really get a feel for the people of an area in most cases. With CS, one actually stays with a local (or is a local and hosts a traveler), and so can get a much more in-depth feel for the people and culture in an area. Very cool.

Good news!

I just got a letter saying that I was accepted to the graduate physics program at the University of Bern in Switzerland.
This is one of the top schools that I applied to, and the one in the most beautiful city. I need to work out a budget and hear from other schools (though it’s likely I’ll go to Bern), as well as make other arrangements, but things look extremely promising.
I admit to performing a very unmanly happy dance when I heard the news.

Condos Suck

Or, rather, the associations suck.
My wife owns a condo outside of Phoenix. In addition to the standard monthly condo association dues, there’s dues to the “community association” that are paid twice a year. There’s an artificial lake next to the complex, and the dues go to maintaining that. I think it’s silly, but whatever.
For about four years, the community association send us the semi-annual invoice, and she paid it promptly. However, in 2010, we never got any bills from them. Since it’s semi-annual, it’s not something we routinely think about, and we never thought to ask. In December, we get a letter from a collections agency saying that we owe {dues+$300}, as we haven’t paid our bills for that year.
We call the association to inquire why this happened, and they say we didn’t pay any of our bills. When asked what address they were sending the bills to, they quoted an address of a private home several miles away from the condo, with which we had no connection. They checked their records and there was no record of anyone ever requesting an address change — it just magically changed without anyone noticing. Evidently the “addressee not found – return to sender” markings on all the returned mail wasn’t obvious enough, and they kept sending more “you’re late, pay your bills” letters and never thought to call us. Since the account had gone to collections, they said there wasn’t anything they could do; we had to go through the collections agency if we wanted to dispute things.
Thinking this would be open-and-shut, as the association was clearly at fault due to screwing up the addresses, we disputed things with the collection agency. They contacted the association, investigated a bit, then reported back to us that the association has reviewed our dispute and denied it, claiming that even though we had no idea what the amount of the bill (as the amount often increases) or its due date were (as they screwed up their records and were sending our bills to the wrong place), we were still responsible for paying it on time and in full. Since we didn’t, the association claims we need to pay all the late fees, re-billing fees, and collection agency fees. If we want to dispute it in person (and you bet we do), we can go to the monthly association meeting.
The collection agency is really professional, and I have no hard feelings for them, but we’ve had nothing but trouble from the association and their property management company. First it was a leaky roof which damaged our ceiling (and they say that their responsibility lies only in fixing the roof, not paying for any damage that their leaky roof did to our ceiling), and now this? I’m seriously considering inventing a way to mail dog poop to them such that, when the box is opened, the poop bursts into flame.
If this doesn’t get resolved at the association meeting, we’re thinking of suing the association. Sure, we could pay the fees and whatnot easily, but it’s the principle of the thing. Any lawyers in the Phoenix area interested? Even if we don’t need representation (e.g. we go to small claims court), we could definitely use some advice or pointers, even if not official legal advice.

Email Woes

I have two email addresses from the university. One is a departmental account, and the other is a general university email account.
The former is in the form of [email protected]_name.example.edu, while the latter is [email protected]
The department address is a bit more professional, but they have annoying spam filters that delay mail for arbitrary and varying amounts of time, so I tend to use the general one for most day-to-day things, and the departmental one for important things like applications.
However, my brain occasionally mixes things up, whereby I type [email protected], which is invalid. This does not look good on applications, because then I need to write to the admissions committee, admit my foolishness, and beg that they change the address on record so they can actually email me back.
I need a better brain.

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Evidently I (( Or, more likely, someone with the same name. )) am on some sort of government watch list.
The consequences of said listing seems to be limited to merely being required to get a boarding pass at the gate when flying, rather than being able to check in online. Naturally, this ends up with me being the last person on the flight. Somewhat annoying, but at least it doesn’t involve probulation or anything.
DHS has some cutesy-name appeals process (“Traveler Redress Inquiry Program” or “TRIP“) to explicitly whitelist a falsely-flagged individual. As annoyed as I am with the existence of the DHS, the TSA, and the process, I sent off the necessary paperwork and things should be cleared up in the next few months.
I wonder what could have caused this flagging to exist. I blog under a pseudonym, and in real life am an ordinary law-abiding guy. Of course, I was in the military for a few years, own firearms, use and strongly advocate the use of strong cryptography, have formal education in physics, and am applying to graduate programs in physics outside the US. I suppose that could be suspicious, but I doubt it’d result in something as minor as slight delays at checking in at the airport.