Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Engineers and their toys

It's not just the weather in the UK that is crappy for BBQ-ing, it's also the coal. Here our handsome model Pierre-David is showing off just how useful it is to have hair, and the 101 uses for the accompanying acoutrements. After Ilias' attempt to start the coal going, rather than get faces red with blowing and hands tired through fanning, it was time for the extension cord and power tools. All I can say is that although it seem like a girly cheat, it worked a treat!

It is possible to "supe down" a Puegot...[or should that be "soup down"?]
When Pavel rang and asked if I could help him move a tractor back home to the Czech Republic, my first thoughts were of a month long languid ride at 20km per hour on the back of a tractor, swilling beer, and gathering crazy characters into a pack to join us as we go along our way. I didn't realise he just meant to pack his little Pug 207 with a dissasembled tractor so that he could drive it home, as picutred below:

I look like such a granpa in this pic!

Nearly done! Notice the large steel shaft aimed straight at the driver's head in case of sudden braking...

And the story ends there, with the tractor safely put back together on the farm in Czech, and the ox now redundant and it's carcass packed into a small pub 207 for the ride back to the UK...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Genf & Luzern

Way back in the mists of time, known to academic historians as late June, a conference took place in Switzerland, that allowed me to travel to Geneva to kill a couple of days before heading to Lucerne for the European Fuel Cells Forum.

The Jet d'Eau.

It was the weekend of the final of the Euro2008 football/soccer. This guy above was not the only person I saw in Geneva with a piglet in a pram. I don't yet know how to connect the two previous sentences. And yes, even the cruiseboats above were getting the football fever.

Outside the UN, a sculpture erected to protest against the lack of progress on the monitorium aginst land mines.

The Spanish Room, decorated by a spanish artist in 1936 just months before the outbreak of the civil war, with very strong anti-war messages. Here have many many peace talks been held, eg. the former Yugoslavia, Iraq.

The Avenue de la Paix (peace). Sounds all high and mighty but is in fact, not much more than a road. OK, the UN, Red Cross, and a whole host of other NGOs and embassies have their address on it, but it's still just a road. I guess Geneva is a bit like Canberra - not really an exciting town. Lots of diplomats, and retirees.

A Swiss dish (it isn't all chocolate and cheese over there). Rosti seems to be basically a hash brown made out of french fries. Actually, can you believe I didn't eat a piece of swiss chocolate the whole week I was in Switzerland? It's true, if you don't count stuff I bought at the airport on the way back and ate on the plane. It was really hot, so I had great ice-cream, and cakes and pastries that I can't get at all at home, and I just never got to the swiss chocolatier during opening hours.

Actually much of my day and a half in Geneva was like that: missed opportunites, and a struggle to find the liveliest parts of town. I arrived 5pm Sat, too late to do much touristy stuff. So I thought I would walk along the edge of the lake and find a good bar/restaurant to sit at and watch the people go past, but there wasn't really one. So I went for a meandering walk around the old town, but didn't really find any happening hotspots there either. So I went back to a small stretch of the lake that had a few bars to sit in the sun and have a beer, but at either end of the series of bars was construction sites so it wasn't really great. Decided to go back and eat at the one square in the old town that had some life, which I did, before going to check out the classical concert that was on in the Fanzone where the football matches were being shown. Got there for the last 2 minutes of the concert.

The next day was much the same. Deciding to do the Red Cross Museum and UN after a sleep in, with bad timing it meant I just finished with the Red Croissant when the UN closed for lunch. Along the Avenue de la Paix there wasn't much gastronomy on offer and what was in the RC cafe wasn't appealing, so I took the time to meditate away my slowly growing hunger under a tree in a nice park and wait for the UN tour to start. The tour was cool, finished at 3, back to town for lunch and... not much is open. So I ended up having Chinese food (just OK) while listening to latin jazz (overhearing a rehearsal in a building somewhere nearby). A true Swiss experience.

The "Smurf apartments"

Continuing on, I then tried to find where a where a jazz festival was being held, but the information I had led me to the jazz organisation's building, but no music. By this time it was almost 5, and now too late for a cruise on Lake Geneva. A bit more information from the hotel, and walking in the opposite direction I find the jazz in a park! Score! I plan to spend a couple of hours there before going off to the fanzone to see a bit of the football. Decide on dinner at an African stall (just OK) thinking at the fanzone it willbe crappy and overpriced. Eventually go off to the football, arrive sober and alone at a drunken party where there is 20 mins to go of the match. I buy a mass-pre-produced caiparinha (not even OK), and realise the food choices were much better here and reasonably priced. Surrounded by Spanish fans (does anyone in Switz support the Germans?) and struggle to get into the spirit of it all. Once the DJ starts playing all your non-favourite dance tracks, it was back to the hotel...

Oh yeah, aside from not eating chocolate in Switzerland, I also avoided buying a watch there. BecauseI bought one at the airport in UK before even setting foot in the country of timepieces. I'm definitely doing something wrong!

This seems to form a pattern recently. What I didn't write in my previous post about Vienna, is that I had a disastrous day travelling there too: starting with locking myself out of my house 40mins before I had to leave, then realising the internet bus timetable was wrong thus necessitating a rushed taxi to the train, where I got off at Luton station without knowing that the airport was another train and shuttle bus away! I wasn't quite the last passenger to board, but I got off in the heat of Vienna in summer, almost lost my wallet at an ice-cream cafe, didn't buy weissbeer when I thought I did, ordered the wrong meal for dinner and then got the phonecall from Christina saying she could be 4-10 hours delayed depending on whether the bus would wait for her delayed flight... I'm getting the feeling something is trying to keep me from leaving the house.

Lake Lucerne

Hotel room view of the Pilates mountain. You could see the Alps from Geneva, and it is cool to be in towns that have this mix of fantastic scenery of water and mountains. Very dramatic. But again, Lucern seemed to be a bit of a sleepy town.

Eating here was a bit disappointing, but it was recommended from my hotel so wasn't my fault. Shame I brought 4 others there for dinner with me, including some US suppliers partners...

The landmark old wooden bridge.

Ye Olde Style Colourfulle Graffiti

I wouldn't have thought of calling Christ a "schmuck" (though the yiddish would give it a certain irony...)

... and I certainly wouldn't call a Christ carrying a battleaxe anything! Those are the Saints I prefer - Warrior Saints, not these peaceful healer types we get now.

At an organ demonstration, expert use of the 3 leg technique. It was impressive to be right at the front of the thing and feel and hear the big bellows pumping air around.

And oh yeah, the conference was interesting too. Interesting sometimes for the technical work presented, sometimes for the rubbish that was presented. My favourite presentation was from a national lab delegate working for a company who mentioned a 99% figure (I think for fuel utlisation or somesuch), and then had a 2nd slide with one massive pie chart divided into 99 and 1%, to show us all what 99% looked like!! Oh boy. The world is doomed...