Monday, July 27, 2009

Running around

Another week, or two (?) has gone by. In lab, work ahs been pretty steady. I have been running subjects almost every morning, putting them into the system and running very mild analysis in the afternoon. A while ago my computer-savvy supervisor attempted to introduce me to the EEG analysis program he uses that runs through Matlab. I have absolutely no familiarity with programming, so my first encounter with this monstrosity was bewildering to the point of hysterical laughter. He taught me what to type to achieve this or that effect from the program, and every few days I’ve been picking up a new set of magical mantras to make the program generate the next level of analysis. Most people have a slight bias for the blue color of the spectrum—this is not the topic of my research, but a byproduct observation. I have now run 11 subjects; my goal is about 20—removing some bad recordings that should make for a small but sufficient sample size of maybe 12. This is all I can say about my research so far—the main topic requires much more analysis, some of which I cannot do. I also have enjoyed some interesting presentations related to the main work that goes on in this lab.

Socially, I have had a few adventures. Last weekend I spent an afternoon in Luzern—a very pleasant town that hosted the unfortunately named Blue Balls festival the day we were there. We went to the art museum there as well, and I was pleasantly intrigued by the work of Hans Erni. At night we took the train the Schwyz, the town that, according to my guide book, is the namesake of the country. If you look at a picture of this town, you will think is if photoshopped, because behind a perfectly normal building shoots up an entirely otherworldly mountain. But it is really so. We stayed in a hostel, 6 people conveniently in a six-person bedroom. I and another fellow had bought two beers at the supermarket, something new to try out. When we opened them up before bedtime, the beers turned out to both smell and taste like smoked meats.

In the morning, the others planned to hike. I, not an experienced hiker at all, felt my day would be more satisfying spent closer to civilization. I visited Fribourg first—a sizable town that has a fantastic old section that I didn’t know existed until suddenly it appeared under a bridge. It was beautiful and far down, and the next few hours I spent running back and forth and up and down this hilly old center. Very enjoyable. Next, I headed to Neuchatel—town on a wonderfully blue lake with yellow buildings and one “rouge” (but really entirely pink) cathedral. The museum had an exhibition about some chocolate company—so I got to eat some free chocolate. Last, I headed to Yverdon-les-bains on the other end of Lake Neuchatel, where there is a castle that closed before I got there. I didn’t enjoy this town that much. I was tired, and missed my train home for a delicious icecream (entirely worth it).

On Tuesday the students in the summer program had a group barbecue. Thursday I went to a museum, la Fondation de l’Hermitage, that was displaying bits and pieces of early 20th century-to-modern art. A new discovery here was Max Ernst. This museum was small and pleasant, and I tried to follow a tour in French, semi-successfully.

This past weekend was yet another adventure. On Saturday, while everyone else headed to Neuchatel, I made my way first to the cathedral and market in Lausanne (delicious berries and spinach and apples!), and then to Vevey and its Alimentarium. On this day, my phone broke, my long-dying mp3 player refused to turn on, my camera stopped responding, and my student ID disappeared, all within 2 hours.

Vevey was in fact nice; for me it had two highlights/goals, really one: find the Fork in the lake, of which my brother has an excellent picture, and go to the museum of food=Alimentarium, to which the fork actually belongs. The food museum (where I realized that my student ID is missing) was not actually all that interesting minus the amusing little things they had like creepy animations, 3D movies illustrating digestion, and a giant hamster wheel for people.

Some other amusing points of Vevey: They have chairs installed into the rocks by of the lake. They also have a statue of Charlie Chaplin, and some kind soul put real flowers into his hands next to the metal one on his lapel. They also have a long lakeside promenade; this inspired me to walk, rather than take the train, to nearby Montreux (I planned a pilgrimage to the statue of Freddie Mercury there).

The walk to Montreux was not particularly memorable. Seeing Montreux by day free of crowds and food booths of the Jazz festival, I don’t really know how they fit all that stuff into these relatively small space. From behind some shops emerged Freddy Mercury. I was very happy to see him. I sat down next to him and tinkered with my camera, which stopped working as I left Vevey, to no avail. I took a discrete photo that didn’t work out too well. But now I have evidence of having encountered his statue. My mission in Montreux is complete.

Next destination was Chateau de Chillon, a few more kilometers away. This is an almost thousand-year old structure that was the stronghold of several different series of rulers. This castle had wonderful latrines—holes with lots of space below descending to the lake. I also enjoyed the large reception room where the insignias of different whoever’s were painted all over the walls.

Sunday morning many of us from the summer program hiked to the Aletsch glacier. We only got to hike to it and not along it because, after some delays, we would not have been able to catch a cable car down the mountain, and could have missed the last train home. I have never really hiked a mountain before. It was beautiful. A different world. When I am up high in the mountains, I feel that if I just go a little higher, I will be able to see a very far-away place; or that strange creatures reside there.

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