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George & Remi November 11, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille, physics life.
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I’ve been pretty bad at posting this – I keep meaning to, but I keep not having time! But I have to send congratulations out to George and Remi for getting their Ph.D.’s:


They entered graduate school on the same day and the only reason they didn’t graduate on the same day was no one wanted to schedule a defense in the morning. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both of them and they are both excellent (sorry, they already have jobs – if you are around CERN they should be there pretty regularly). They graduated just before I left Marseille earlier this year, in September.

Congratulations to both! And best of luck – and enjoy the LHC startup! 🙂


Congratulations to Sasha Rozanov! September 8, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille, physics life.
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IMG_2378Each ear the French Science agency – CNRS – awards silver and gold medal’s to its researchers. Sasha got the silver one this year. This is a big deal – people were coming from all over France (and from CERN) to take part in the party and short symposia held in his honor. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. If you know him, definitely send him congrats!

BTW, that is a picture of Sasha killing his cell phone during the ceremony. I’ve got more dignified pictures in the usual spot.

Fire July 23, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Marseille.

Wow. I’ve never seen a forest fire up close. But the calanque behind Luminy were burning yesterday. It has been very hot and everything is very dry and yesterday was quite windy – perfect conditions. Luminy is where CPPM, the lab I’m working at here in the south of France, is located:


The #1 marker is where the building I work in is located, and the #2 is the approximate location of the fire – quite close! Most of the region is a protected national park, so I couldn’t really get very close to the actual fire – perhaps a good thing – but I do have decent resolution on my camera:


At the start of the day we couldn’t even see that there was a fire other than this helicopter kept hovering over the area. But in the afternoon they got serious and a whole slew of airplanes started arriving every 15 minutes to drop water on the fire:


These planes are pretty cool – they fly over to the sea – very close buy – and scoop up sea water. They never land – they just fly right above the water and use their speed to fill their tank. It must be quite difficult to keep the plane at the right altitude as it gains all that weight.

The smoke was impressive – covered the city and made for a nice sunset. This morning there is still smoke – and the fire wasn’t out yet (apparently under control, however). 480 people are fighting it in the air and on the ground. Wow.

Update: Some houses burned (no one hurt), the road to Cassis was temporarily closed too. I saw someone’s pictures who was living quite close to the fire. Flickr has some good pictures of the fire as well.

What I want July 22, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in computers, France, life, Marseille.
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Well, it is basically my birthday (whooo!). I can’t complain. Hell, check out the view from where I’m living in the South of France right now:


I’ve managed to get started on all but two projects I wanted to tackle this summer (re-do my class for the fall and a GUI tool to allow me to ask quick and dirty questions of a Monte Carlo file).

I can’t complain.

And yet… there is a certain feeling of malaise settling in. At first I thought it was the constant heat. But I’m basically on the beach. Can’t be it. Perhaps it is eating too much rich French food? Maybe it is the economic crisis.

Finally figured out what it is – my current cell phone is almost two years old! I feel better already!

When I return to the USA it will be time to buy a new one. Unfortunately, I have a few basic requirements. One I’d really like to go for this time is that it run both Adobe Flash/Air and Microsoft’s Silverlight. The later because that is a geek version of Flash – one I can actually write code in. Initially I thought that killed the iPhone, but it turns out not to be the case – the open source version can be run there as long as you drop half the features which violate the iPhone’s service agreement (which is also the reason that Flash isn’t on the phone – this isn’t technical, it is business). Unfortunately, I have to own an Apple to do any development work and pay some developer fee and I can’t just post my app on a web page – I have to go through the Apple censors. So that puts a significant dent in my enthusiasm. On the other hand the iPhone has the best interface of any phone I’ve seen – though I really really like my current keyboard for replying to email.

It would also be nice if I could play subscription music on my phone, but that isn’t a 100% must (I currently carry around 120 gigs of music, video/audio podcasts, etc. on a big Zune). The phone needs to have all the usual stuff to – PDF reader for those arxiv papers, web browser, 3G, SMS, and MMS.

Android looks very interesting – though I’m waiting to see a Flash/Silverlight port. At least there is no company blocking the port in that case, so perhaps it will happen? I hear Microsoft is preparing a new phone as well. The Pre sounds nice, but I can’t tell how much traction it is going to get.

I might have to wait a year. All of a sudden I don’t feel so happy anymore…

Bastille Day July 15, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in Fireworks, France, Marseille.
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Marseille did a lot better than last year. Actually, it was a whole day, starting with a parade (including impossible-to-photograph-because-they-were-moving-so-fast-fighter-jets) to the fireworks at the end.


Also, the pulled up a anti-submarine boat from their civil defense force. It was parked right outside my window:


What was even cooler is they allowed tours. So I got on board and stole all the high-tech French secrets I could for the homeland. Actually, not. But I did get to see the boat. And I got a bunch of pictures from the outside:

Pictures were allowed – but not very many people took the pictures. And, funnily enough, I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. I know, odd for me. The technology inside was a mis-mash of stuff that looks like it was straight out of the old NASA control rooms (you should have seen the radar scopes) and modern PC’s (well, running Windows 2000). In the operations center, where they collect all the radar information (and they have a lot) I expected the controls to be fairly uniform. You know – to reduce mistakes when under pressure. But that wasn’t the case. The equipment was festooned with small switches and controls – if you weren’t looking I don’t see how you could have felt your way to the right switch. Fascinating stuff, none-the-less.

And the night was topped off by, of course, fireworks. These were not as big as the ones I saw last year (more bang, less light?). But still they had some pretty spectacular ones. My favorite were these arcing ones shot from water level that got closer and closer together. The picture below is a static one, so it doesn’t give the full effect (the sound was important part of it too).


I’ve uploaded a mess of pictures for anyone that wants to look. It was one hot hot hot day. I spent the middle half of it working from home, but when the sun started coming in the window I had to give up!

UPDATE: Forgot a link to pictures!

Back To Marseille June 20, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille, travel.
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Term is done. It was done a week ago. Next week I move back to Marseille for three months. Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I spent 2007-2008 there. Well… I’m going back. Ironically, in 2007-2008 I was really hoping that I’d see first collision at CERN when I was there (it is less than 4 hours door-to-door from Marseille to CERN). This time there is no hope (there was a power outage there today – I wonder if that affected the LHC’s state? Nope, not really!). I was lucky enough that IN2P3 had some money available to help fund my three month trip (thanks IN2P3!).

To celebrate my return there I put together a synth of some 1000-odd pictures I took of the train station when I was there last time. There is lots of cool stuff up there (check out this one  of the Hubble repair mission).

Synth’s are a very cool way to arrange a large collection of photo’s of a single subject. At any rate, enjoy it. I’m going a little crazy trying to get everything ready for the trip!

BTW – I wasn’t able to make this 1000 image synth until I got my new computer with huge amounts of memory – during the synth process it always ran out of memory! The irony here is that synth code is 32 bit. I guess Windows 64 bit gives just a bit more memory space to 32 bit programs than the 32 bit version of windows!

It’s Over August 30, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.
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CIMG1973Well. This is it. I’ve been living in Marseille, France, for 14 months now. And tonight is the last night. Tomorrow we all board a plane for Ottawa. A week later I’ll be back in Seattle busy preparing for class. It has been a great year.

I’d like to thank everyone that hosted me at CPPM, the in2p3 lab at Marseille. Especially Laurent, Lorenzo, Remi, Georges, Cecile, Jessica, Karim, Sylvain, Mossadek, Eric, and Fanny (without Fanny I’d still be stuck in some line waiting for France to let me in!). There are many others as well. Without their help I never would have learned nearly as much as I did, nor would we have had such a great time.

And thanks to DOE and IN2P3 for providing some funding, which made this possible. Without that this never would have happened, especially considering how weak the dollar was this year!

We are going to miss Marseille!!

Bye Bye, Marseille! August 28, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.
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Only about 6 hours left in Marseille. Frantically packing. Knee deep in garbage, recycling, and boxes! How is this all going to get to the train station, exactly!? We’re going to miss this place!


Who Is Eating Our Boxes? August 27, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille.
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IMG_0167First the good news: unlike last time, all 12 boxes that we shipped back to the USA have arrived. We gave 5 or 6 more to go, so I hope this sort of luck holds.

The bad news: it is questionable to say they arrived intact. Check out the shape of these guys. It looks like an animal was munching on them in transit.

Seriously. Are these boxes just tossed in a pile into a container, and that container contains spikes and poles sticking out at random angles. The Container Of (Box) Death. From the damage it looks like they were used in some sort of Olympics event. Perhaps the little heard of “Drop Kick The Box” contest? Only very pointy shoes may be worn. Extra points for tearing a corner of a box completely off!!

I don’t understand why the postal service can’t figure out how to ship boxes overseas. At least, with them being intact. All those red boxes you see there — those were boxes sold by the post-office that were meant for over-seas shipping. So there is no excuse “you are using the wrong box!.” I’d love to put a GPS and an accelerometer in a box or two and see where the damage occurs. I suppose the GPS probably wouldn’t ever work as the box is always inside… but is this damage sustained through out the trip? Or just in a particular port? Or what!?

Shipping 5 boxes when we moved out was no better. Only 3 of the 5 arrived. The other two “disappeared” (both of them disappeared in France). We had insured them from the USA side, but they demanded original receipts and the deadline they gave me was impossible because I wouldn’t be back in the USA soon enough to make it. No wonder insurance is cheap for shipping! This time we didn’t even insure. We will take some valuable stuff by carry on and UPS, and the stuff we can afford to loose by the postal service.


WTF Moments August 11, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in life, Marseille.
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IMG_1355That isn’t what you think. “WTF” is abbreviated as “Welcome to France!” — but is basically the same. My wife discovered this coined on David Lebovitz’s blog. He is an American who moved to Paris back in 2002 – a pastry chef. And he frequently writes about how strange France can seem to an American (see his post on 5 great business to open in France – we have have experienced all of them).

Our building here in Marseille is about 100 years old. It has a spiral stairway that accesses all five floors. A very small elevator is installed in the middle of the spiral and carries people up and own. Much to the consternation of us occupants, it has a tendency to stop between floors. Since it does get stuck every now and then, the few moments when the doors open between floors and you aren’t sure they will close again can be a bit nerve wracking. Last time the stuck thing happen the elevator guy came by. I explained, in my broken English, the problem. He fixed it apparently. That was several months ago. Last week, however, he ran our buzzer and came up to talk to Paula. He explained why the elevator keeps getting stuck: the workers in the business that occupies the 3rd floor apartment smoke too much. Hmm… My wife finally worked it out that they use the elevator so much that some key bit overheats, expands, and causes it to stop between floors. Not that he would replace it, but he did come all the way out to the building to inform us…

Banks are weird here. In the USA they are much more consumer oriented. For example, our ATM cards all have a limit: no more than 350 euros per 7 days. France is much more of a cash society than is the USA, so 350 in a week can sometimes be cramped — but no problem, we have two cards, and we can each withdraw. So unless we are traveling this has never been a problem. But… it turns out… lets say you try to withdraw 200 euros. It fails. So you try again and you manage to get out 150. The next day you try to get out another 50. Nope — you are over the limit! You go to the bank and complain! They look at the ATM record and tell you that you’ve withdrawn more than your allowed 350. After you direct them to look at your bank account they agree that the first 200 euros wasn’t real. Will they fix the ATM card so you can withdraw? Nope – sorry — you have to wait until Saturday!!