06 January 2012

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and will have a wonderful and prosperous New Year. We've spent the last few weeks with friends and family in Chicago and New York. We are currently with D's family in New York and I'm heading to Las Vegas for work and my little sister's wedding on 28 January and D will be going back to Geneva for a few weeks for a conference (in Pisa - lucky guy) and will be coming to LV for Justine's wedding.

I feel like every few posts I say... "Whoops, I haven't written in awhile." So again, whoops, I haven't written in awhile. December was great - we went to some Christmas markets and headed to Paris to meet our friend Sam before Christmas. More pictures to come...hopefully.

So since I'm still on D's parents' visit to Switzerfrancerland (um, in November) here are some shots of the beautiful Matterhorn in Zermatt. If the shape looks familiar, its because Toblerone are modeled after the mountain!
Many of the old buildings in Zermatt were these 'cheese houses' 
The houses were placed on wooden stakes with a flat stone perched on top. This prevented mouses from  getting to the cheese! 

We'll be in Geneva until the end of 2012. Our travel plans this year are not cemented yet - in February we are meeting Dave's parents and sister Rachel in Portugal and traveling to Lisbon and Porto; in March two of my very good girlfriends are coming to visit us and we're going to skiing in the Berner Oberland and Chamonix and visiting Barcelona. Since this is our last year in Geneva, we hope to travel as much as 2011 BUT my law school loans are coming off forbearance so I'm not sure how much travelling we will be doing. I hope 2012 brings you all happiness and joy - and if you want to come visit, let us know!

Lauterbrunnen Valley

09 December 2011

The Berner Oberland was gorgeous, and we stayed in Lauterbrunnen Valley in an amazing chalet. Lauterbrunnen Valley is also called the Valley of Waterfalls because there are 72 waterfalls in the area. One of the largest is Staubacch Falls which you can see from when you come out of the train station.  It was beautiful on the day we left, with the sun hitting it just right.  

Thirty minutes before our train left, D and I ran up to get a better view of the town from above. Luckily, we were able to catch our train out!

Murren and an "easy hike" that ended up being death defying

06 December 2011

The next day we took a cable car up to Grutschalp and then the Panoramafahrt - the Panoramic train - to Murren. Murren is a bustling resort town...except in November, when its shoulder season. To be honest, shoulder season is my favorite time to travel (see Sweden in November and Italy in February - if I had actually written a post, whoops) - less crowds and cheaper, so one can get photos like this...  

However, one problem in traveling during shoulder season is that lots of other things may be closed...like the cable car up to Allmunhubel, where our hike started.  So instead, we decided to hike up to Allmunhubel, which was up 1,000 feet from Murren, which turned out to be a bit difficult since the air is much thinner up there, and it was straight uphill. Luckily we had lots of beautiful views...

Birg station on top and the path cutting up on the right.
The weather was gorgeous, and we had some great views.  Here's Murren from above, and a non-working ski lift.  There are great ski trails all around the area - I can't wait to go back in March!  

Murren from above

The hike was very long, but had amazing views. Here's a high plateau with a gorgeous view of the mountain range. That is the Schwartzmonch and Jungfrau.
Eye of the Tiger

The Big 3:  Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau, and in the foreground, the Schwartzmonch.
 We decided to hike down to Gimmelwald via the Sprutz trail, where one sees the Sprutz waterfall.  HOWEVER, we did not know that right before the Sprutz waterfall, there is another waterfall that runs on the trail.  This is fine in most months of the year, but when it freezes over and you, your hubs, and your hubs' parents have to cross it AND there is what seems like a 200 foot drop into an icy river, its much, much more scary. We definitely should have had crampons to cross it.  We asked the TI in Lauterbrunnen if it was OK to go on the trail, and very Swiss like, they said yes it is fine but didn't tell us that a part of the trail could be frozen and there is a drop into the icy river below if you fall.  Oh, and you are at least 3 km from civilization should you hurt yourself. Anyway, we survived! :)

Frozen waterfall

After I crossed, D's mom + dad getting ready to cross.  D's dad scampered back and forth 3x while I hyperventilated.
Sprutz waterfall

Frozen waterfall on the left, Sprutz on the right.  I'm freaked out thinking about it.
We finally got down to Gimmelwald, just as the sun was setting and emerged from the forest for sunset and  the very end of some beautiful Alpen glow.

Alpen Glow

The top of Europe!

05 December 2011

The Jungfraujoch is called "The Top of Europe" on the saddle between the Monch and the Jungfrau itself.  It is the highest train station in Europe at 3,454 meters or 11,332 ft. We took a (very early) cog rail from Lauterbrunnen to Murren, then up to Kleine Scheidegg. 
The view of Lauterbrunnen from Murren - the sun is about to rise.
 At Kleine Scheidegg, we transferred to another cog rail which takes you into and through the Eiger, with two stops along the way:  one halfway up the North Face of the Eiger and the other on the Sea of Ice. 

From the Eiger - the round patches of snow are snow making machines getting ready for ski season.
Sea of Ice

We finally arrived at the top of Europe after 50 minutes traveling through the Eiger on the cog railway.  Our first stop was to walk out on the top of the Sphinx mountain to see the Jungfrau and the Monch. 

Hello Jungfrau!
Hello Monch!  -  The Monch protecting the Jungfrau from the Eiger

Then we head into the ice palace - where everything, including the floor and chairs are made of ice with ice sculptures everywhere. 

Look what else we found!
Ice seats

There were some tight squeezes - look at that gorgeous color!
 We went to the top of the observatory to see the longest glacier in Europe: the Aletsch glacier, 22 km long.
One side: the Aletsch glacier - check out those crevasses.

The other side - this is the hike we did back in August.

After a few hours at the top of the Jungfrau we head back down to Kleine Scheidegg and hiked down to Wengen Alp. It was a gorgeous day! 
Check out this gorgeous view - Eiger on the left and Monch on the right.

Berner Oberland with Dave's Parents!

01 December 2011

Well, I'm back. Sorry.  The past few months have been great - and busy.  I stopped writing in October because D and I went to Chicago for the amazing wedding of an amazing couple, I had a brief stopover in LV to see my sister while Dave went to Notre Dame to do some work/see some friends, and we met in Rochester, NY to go to our 5 year reunion.  It was a busy month!  

November was busy too!  Dave's mom and dad came out to visit us and we explored Switzerland:  Geneva, Nyon, Berner Oberland, Trub (where D's mom's family emigrated from in the 1750s), Montreux, and finally Zermatt. 
Ooh, big windows

We took the Glacier Express Rail from Geneva to Lauterbrunnen.  The stretch from Montreux to Interlaken is beautiful, and they have special panoramic cars. We were under the impression that to sit in these cars, we would have to purchase 1st class rail tickets (not true).  Generally, the people who work for SBB are really great - but I think we got this guy on his first day.  He was definitely training, as someone was looking over his shoulder the whole time.  So, I tell them we would like to purchase 1/2 fare cards for D's mom and dad - a great deal for Swiss rail.  OK, he does that fine. Next, I tell him I would like to purchase tickets from Geneva to Lauterbrunnen, through Spiez so we can go on the Glacier Express route, and we'd like tickets only on the Glacier Express route.  Do we have to go 1st class to get panoramic windows? Yes. OK. He inputs everything into the computer, prints it out, looks at it, then throws it in the garbage.  Repeat 4x.  Finally he gives us all our tickets, we pay an exorbitant amount of money (at least to an un-employed expat wife, but probably not so bad for normal folk), and we go on our merry way. We have an uneventful ride to Montreux, switch to the panorama cars, and then can't seem to find our seats.  Hmm, that's weird, we reserved them, we even have the reservation card and everything. The conductor just tells us to take a seat as the train is already moving, and when he comes back we give him our reservation.  The conductor then proceeds to tell us that the guy gave us the reservation for the wrong date, oh and he gave us our tickets in a very odd way, oh and he made our reservation in the 1st class cabin with the panorama windows but didn't give us our actual tickets, he thinks. At least, that's what I think happened - this was all in French.  Well, the guy is nice, and just as confused as we are, so he lets us sit in 1st class with the panorama windows. All in all, we think we only paid for the reservation for 1st class tickets (its a separate reservation fee and ticket fee), but we got panorama windows!

Gorgeous views

The ride is beautiful, we get to our chalet in Lauterbrunnen, and a bit down the road is a sheep farm with baby sheep!  We crash early since the next day we'll be going to the top of Europe! 

Faster Than Light Neutrinos

28 September 2011

On September 23rd, a representative of the Opera collaboration came to CERN to give a talk entitled Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam. The speaker described the controversial finding that neutrinos sent through the Earth's crust 730km from CERN to the Gran Sasso laboratory south of Rome arrived some 60 nanoseconds too early. That's 60 billionths of a second. Not a lot, but still very significant! The Opera collaboration has been looking hard for any problems in their experiment for months now. Not finding any, they decided to bring the results in a public setting for further scrutiny. If true, this could completely change our understanding of some of the most fundamental theories of physics. And no, this doesn't mean relativity is wrong, simply that we can't hold c (the speed of light) as a maximum speed any longer. But this is a core assumption in many ideas that would need to be reconciled.

The speaker in front of a full house

The important figure is relative difference of the neutrino velocity with respect to the speed of light. The experiment finds (v-c)/c = (2.48±0.28(stat.)±0.30(sys.))*10^-5 . Also important is the statistical significance of the experiment, which at 6sigma means that there is only a 1 in 506,797,346 chance that the finding is due to a statistical fluctuation! Other experiments from SuperNova 1987A put limits on (v-c)/c of less than 10^-9 ! However, this was on a vastly different neutrino energy, further complicating the question.
It was so crowded people were sitting on the steps and standing in the back! You can just see K and I in the lower right corner, sitting on the floor.

So it is very unlikely that the measurement is due to a freak statistical fluctuation. The speaker gave a very good presentation, thoroughly explaining the quantification of each complication and how it was handled. The experiment looks to have been performed very thoroughly, and there were no gaping holes in the experimental setup. What remains to be seen is whether the collaboration has thought of ALL the systematic errors, and addressed them correctly. This was the focus of the questions after the talk, posed by many of the greatest minds in our field. The experiment is very complicated, especially with its very sensitive geodesy/gps and timing needs. Possible complications such as the rotation of the earth, tidal and seasonal influences, and complicated timing coincidence issues were raised. The speaker had an answer at every turn.

But I am avoiding the real question: Is it true? Do I, and the greater physics community, believe the result?

Its a hard question to answer. The experiment looks to have been done thoroughly and intelligently. At the same time, it is a very complicated experiment and there are a nearly infinite number of things that could go wrong. Not to mention the possibility that there is some obtuse systematic error that has not been considered.

If this result is true, the ramifications are huge, and far-reaching. This makes people reticent to embrace the results to quickly. The reality is that no one will take this result completely seriously unless there is an independent verification, which will take some time.

The looks on our faces, ranging from disbelief to confusion, say it all.

In the end, I can't speak for the community at large. For my part, I think it would be very exciting if it is true, but think that most likely the result comes from some small but significant complication that is not fully understood. I can say that most people I have spoken too feel the same way.

Hopefully I am wrong!

SCUBA Cinque Terre

25 September 2011

D and I try to travel to places we can go diving -  we basically planned our honeymoon around diving with Hammerheads.  D, Rachel, and I all dove for the first time together in the Philippines after Dave and I graduated from university.  Dave, Rachel, my family, and I all went to this gorgeous island called Boracay.  We stayed next to a SCUBA shop and we all decided that we should go diving.  They gave us a 15 minute lesson in the shallows and then took us down for our first SCUBA experience.  It was mind blowing to be transported to a world of crystal clear water and an explosion of color.  After that, Dave and I were hooked and knew we had to get certified.  Incidentally, this was also the day that Dave proposed!  We dove in the morning, hung out at the beach during the day, and then Dave took me on a sunset cruise and proposed.  Check out this sunset on the day he proposed....

Boracay sunset proposal!  

Rachel did an exploration dive with us in Hawaii last year - a dive where you don't need to be certified.  After that, she decided/we forced her to get her certification so she could come on our vacations and dive with us.  

When we decided to go to Cinque Terre, I saw that they had a marine preserve set up around the towns and knew we could dive while we were there.  It was set up in 1997 to protect the area and protect the fishing.  The diving there was perfectly acceptable, but not exceptional.  We dove off of Punta Mesco, in between Levanto and Monterosso del Mare. It was still really enjoyable and we saw some huge spotted scorpion fish.  Normally, the ones we see are quite small, but this time the largest one we saw was about 18 inches (45 cm)!  The cool part about these fish aside from their size, was we actually got to see their true color.  In general, they look like this...

Spotted Scorpion Fish...he looks disappointed.  
Sea water looks blue for the same reason refracting light makes the sky look blue, and the deeper you go the more dominant this blue color becomes.  The other colors become faded, if visible at all - particularly reds and yellows.  So we normally see Spotted Scorpion Fish looking like this.  

But this time one of the divers had a torch.  And to our surprise they actually look like this....
Spotted Scorpion fish are red! 

Spotted Scorpion fish. 
We see a lot of the these guys, but normally not this large.  A quick google search tells me that they inject their venom into targets using their dorsal spines - this venom can cause severe pain, but not death, in humans.  I guess I shall stay a bit farther away from them next time.  

From what we were told, the marine reserve has really helped the aquatic life in the few short time it has been in place.  Its always great to dive in an area where they really care about the future of the dive site.