Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Perfect Villain

The perfect villain is Mayilvahanam, lawful rowdy extraordinaire, in Hari's 2010 film Singam, portrayed by Prakash Raj

The other day I went with my friends to watch the Hobbits, where the dragon Smaug was a total disappointment. Blowing hot air around in an archaeological excavation site seems to be the best that it can present. On the other hand, I never cease to wonder at the villain of the hit Kollywood epic Singam, a story of the testosterone contest between this fella and the likewise insanely charismatic policeman Duraisingam. Let me now give a (suitably brief) overview of why he totally trashes Smaug (although to be fair, Smaug is quite a straw-man).

ONE - Primary role in the film. As an unusual approach, the movie places primary focus on Mayilvahanam rather than the policeman, whose name I have temporarily just forgotten. The movie opens with his fake heart attack and ploy to ensnare an opponent gangster, whereas Duraisingam is only introduced afterwards. The movie seems at some places less of Duraisingam's exploits than it is about the fall of Mayilvahanam.

TWO - Capability. Mayilvahanam is portrayed as an extremely competent gangster. The aforementioned mind game overture that marked his entry is just one side of his canniness. In addition, he holds real sway over the politics of Chennai and Tamil Nadu, having dipped his fingers in almost all construction projects in Chennai even being close personal friends with the Tamil Nadu home minister.

THREE - Deviousness. The narrator describes Mayilvahanam as a "lawful rowdy", as he never openly breaks any law. His main source of income is from blackmail, by threatening to blow the whistle on people cheating on taxes. The carefulness with which he conducts his activities is well-illustrated. After an operation in which he threatens to kidnap the son of a businessman, a subordinate was severely berated of having shown his pistol in public. Dirty work such as murder and kidnapping are relegated to subcontractors. Legal counsel is sought from a lawyer (!) in his inner cabal, who ensures that the boss himself stays out of trouble.

FOUR - Popular support. The contest between Mayilvahanam and Duraisingam is also partly a contest for followers. At the beginning of the film, Mayilvahanam enjoyed enormous influence in the state of Tamil Nadu and even beyond (e.g. Harbour Shanmugam's gang in Tuticorin and the gang in Andhra Pradesh who facilitated his attempt to escape the country). In a way, the turning point of the contest and the coup de grâce to Mayilvahanam's reign in Chennai came about mainly through the police officer's systematic rehabilitation of his followers.

FIVE - Humanness. Mayilvahanam's is not that of a out-of-control other, indifferent to human emotions. The grief that came from Duraisingam's execution of his brother is especially poignant when it was coupled with his flailing emotional pleading to the police officer, saying "He's a family man!" The fall of Mayilvahanam is hence a thoroughly personal defeat, much more than it is a simple curbing of a natural force as the slaying of a dragon or putting off a forest fire. The presence of his redeeming qualities also justified Duraisingam's prevailing intention to rehabilitate rather than to eliminate his opponents, and to make his fall even more of a tragedy.

It should not be judged that Smaug was written by someone with half a brain; Tolkien had written his novel for children, who are generally not supposed to have learned about "economic crimes" and other such complicated nonsense, and Peter Jackson probably have much more enthusiasm for big fireballs than making characters seem convincing, which also makes some kind of sense. In the contest between Mayilvahanam and Smaug, however, it is the former who wins by a landslide by being an interesting and engaging villain.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Your quest is my objective, as long as I live,
Of you alone I talk, while I have a tongue.
God knows how it all may end,
Impatient am I, intemperate he.
For you alone I yearn, if yearn at all,
You are my desire, if I harbour one.
Much have I travelled in the garden of this world,
Peerless is the flower of friendship in its scent and hue.
A blessing is the sense of sight, the sight of friends a boo
You and I will cease to be, once our eyes are shut.
Who else, o Dard, should my eyes accost?
He alone is present wheresoever I look.

-- Khwaja Mir Dard (1721-1785)

Monday, October 21, 2013

An Outdated and Disorganised Account of my 2010 Trip to Irkutsk and the Baikal

The approach to Irkutsk

10 July 2010: Flying In

0100 - 0700: Flight SQ800 from Singapore to Beijing (Singapore Airlines)
1100 - 1500: Flight HU7967 from Beijing to Irkutsk (Hainan Airlines)
1500 - 1700: Russian customs hell
1700 - 1900: Long taxi ride to Listvyanka
2000 - 2200: Random new friends dragged us onto boat, force-fed us local cuisine and tequila.

Let's just say that the plane passes through a lot of China before it reaches Irkutsk... The first flight brought us to Beijing, which means I huiguo'd again for a little while, and again enjoyed the assortedness of the country... nevertheless, Beijing (at least where the airport is at) seems like one of the less messy places in China.

Flight SQ800 landed in Beijing Capital Airport, in the new terminal featuring extravagant archirecture for inspiring awe in foreigners.
Terminal 3 has a skytrain from the gates to luggage collection, which is good. It is also a 20 minutes' drive from the other terminals, which is not.
Flight HU7967 took off from Terminal 2, through gate no. f-ckall and a ferry bus whose driver was asleep for a good half-hour while we waited.
The flight was delayed. I regrettably did not take note for how long, but I fell asleep and the plane was still on the ground when I woke up. It was speculated that an official might have been making a visit to the airport. The service on board this flight was good though, better than any other flight I've been on this year.

The airport was pretty small; only 4 counters served the incoming flight, and each person in the queue took ~5-10 minutes getting their pages stamped. People are taxed by the organic produce they bring into this part of the country, and some travellers from China (who are wont to carry all sorts of random produce like fruits, peanuts, cucumbers etc. around) become especially vulnerable at this juncture.

11 July 2010: The Town of Listvyanka

Listvyanka town is a smallish town on the coast of Baikal, ~70km southeast of Irkutsk city. It sits near the lake's southwestern end, and occupies 6 inflowing streams out of the 3000+ that flow into it.

The town consists of one main axis (Ulitsa Gor'kogo), along the shore, and 6 valleys that reach inland.
They don't seem to have names, and so I name them according to street name, from east to west:
1. Partisanskaya Valley, at the eastern edge of town. The place is full of folks who look asian, and I'm just going to assume that they're all Buryats, them being the indigenous race of that part of Russia. A Buryat sacred place (oba) also happens to be there, as does the Solar Observatory.
2. Gudina Valley, next to the fish market.
3. Chakayeva Valley, with the war monuments. My hotel is situated on the shoreline between (2) and (3).
4. "Big Valley", the widest valley in town, with Saint Nicholas' Church, bad roads, heaps of horse manure, etc.
5, 6. 2 small, random valleys, beyond which the Baikal museum sits. The town ends here, giving way to another entity called Nikola, where nothing much ever seems to be happening.

12 July 2010: The Folk of Listvyanka

I am only in Russia for a week, and so have to curb my urges to traverse vast expanses of Siberia on rail (and then try to impress my friends on the "Cities I've Been" map). But never mind. If we stay in this village for a week, at this rate we'll get to know the whole village, and that is not a bad idea too.

Met the Doctor from Irkutsk and his wife, plus a friend from Angarsk (or was the Doctor from Angarsk?), plus a family from Moscow on the balcony of Hotel Mayak. They were in a super good mood. The mood was so good that they dragged us onto the boat and rammed local cuisine and hard liquor down our throats. I must remember to note this funny little ritual the Doctor used as a seal of friendship.
1. Lick the back of your hand and sprinkle salt over it, then lick it again
2. Take a swig of tequila (or whatever beverage)
3. Eat a slice of lemon
It didn't make anyone any more drunk, but it's very interesting.
We were still sane enough to stagger back into the correct room, thanks be to God, thinking what a fortune it is for us to be experiencing Russia in such a short while after touching down in the country.

These were only the visitors, though. The locals are more persistent, and keep coming back after we first get to see them, like recurring characters in a story.

With the Boatman Dude on the Baikal

13 July 2010: Baikal

Expenses for 13 July:
150 rub. Map of Irkutsk and Lake Baikal on the flip-side
100 rub. Map of Listvyanka
300 rub. Bicycle rental (2 hours from 1210h to 1410h) from Big Valley
240 rub. Entrance fee for the Baikal Museum
10 rub. Pack of napkins

 A bike trip.

14 July 2010:
Preparations for the conference banquet, where we snuck home a bottle of free vodka


16 July 2010:

Ad hoc Irkutsk City Skirmish:
Start: Hotel Delta, Ul. Karla Libknekhta; from exit turn right
1: Turn right into Ul. Sof'i Perovskoi (direction is SW) (1330 hours)
1a: Lunch at Shanghai Cafe at junction with Ul. Partizanskaya, run by a family from Yanbian (the Korean prefecture in Jilin).
2: Ul. Sof'i Perovskoi leads into Ul. Podgornaya, a very run-down part of town
3: Ul. Podgornaya leads imperceptably into Ul. Timiryazeva.
4: Turn right into Ul. Lenina, a main road of town.
4a: Lenin statue at junction with Ul. Karla Marksa
5: Turn left into Ul. Karla Marksa
5a: Tsar Alexander III statue at end of street, beside the river, and also the Regional Museum.
6: Turn right into park area alongside Gagarina Boulevard. (direction is NNW)
7: Gagarina Boulevard becomes Ul. Tsesovskaya Nabyerezhnaya after the bridge across Angara.
8: Turn right at the first small alley
9: Turn left at alley's exit into Ul. Surikova (direction is ENE)
9a: Past the city's Coal Plant(?), a small park can be seen, plagued with newlyweds. 2 cathedrals and 1 church adorn the far side.
10: Across the park, go south down the far side. This is Ul. Sukhe-Batora
11: Turn left into Ul. Rabochaya.
12: Turn right into Ul. Proletarskaya (direction is SE)
12a: This street is interrupted with a pedestrian mall, where the circus sits.
13: Street ends at Ul. Karla Marksa, cross road and enter Ul. Fur'ye (slightly to left)
14: Street ends at Ul. Dzerzhinskogo, cross road and enter Ul. Chekhova (slightly to left also)
15: Street ends at Ul. Timiryazeva, turn left.
16: Turn right into Ul. Karla Libknekhta, back to hotel. (1915 hours)

Monday, September 23, 2013


Arranger’s notes, 23 September 2013 

The concert, 18 September 2013: GENUS has pulled off another successful concert this semester in UCC Theatre, the one titled EMCC Food For Thought. It was marketed with a gigantic ice cream in the poster, conveniently despite the fact that ice cream was not one of the featured delicacies in the concert (but ice cream can go with all of them… it can be argued that way…). Yeonbap was second to play in the line-up and was generally well received by the audience and ensemble members.

The song: Yeonbap was one of the soundtracks, composed by Im Se-Hyeon, that were featured in the Korean historical epic Dae Jang Geum. In this serial, a sad orphan Lee Young-Ae enters a palace, becomes a cook, plays palace politics, becomes a doctor, lands a handsome dude, saves the king’s life, and does other pretty interesting stuff. By far the most recognisable tunes associated with the TV show are Onara in the end credits and Changyong in the beginning credits. I chose Yeonbap here because it shows up whenever the stunt double does the cooking, and therefore is the most suited to the concert’s theme (food). Yeonbap itself is rather well-designed for this purpose; the melodic theme progresses from soft to loud, from an appetizer titillating the appetite to a main course so rich it immobilises the guests with satiation.

The arrangement process: The problem was to make it work for a guitar ensemble. Certain flourishes in the original soundtrack were deemed unfeasible and were cut out. House A was grafted into the beginning as an intro, and was an allusion to the melodic theme of Sasom Fågelen, a song by the Swedish singer Lena Willemark. House F was originally intended for Changyong but I later wrote in an angsty wailing number that I thought up out of nothing one sleepless night. House G mops up the residual bloodthirstiness of its predecessor with rumbling basses and contrabasses and eases its progress back to normalcy; I meant it as a nod to the compositional techniques employed by the (Australian) Crooked Fiddle Band to bridge different movements of set tunes such as What the thunder said. The rest of the song stays fairly faithful to the original. Most of the arrangement was done during the exam season of EPFL, where I was studying for a semester-long exchange program; it could have been due to the stress of the examinations that the middle sections were so strident and torturous. The arrangement was completed jubilantly by yours truly while in Brugg, a quiet and uneventful Swiss town where one can finally find the inner peace needed to do such a thing properly.

The performance: Peiqi, Wan Ching and Bei Ying were mobilised to play the drums, the peng ling, the sleigh bells and the cymbals. The cymbals needed a high-pitched, slightly subdued sound and a pair of cymbals the size of a palm was chosen. The peng ling took the role of the triangle, and a barrel drum laid horizontally stood in as an ersatz Janggu. Liangshan was the flautist, playing the Chinese flute (dizi) for the theme and the concert flute for house E, where the notes were too low for the Chinese flute. In bars 154-156, he has decided to play a shrill trilling note to accompany the guitars, which turned out to be so fitting that I forgot that it was not written in the score. Some changes in dynamics were suggested in the course of the rehearsals and these are reflected in the present version of the manuscript.

Technical stuff: Certain difficulties were encountered in the process of translating the scores into playing, which I should explain. The lightly damp technique employed by A2, P1 and P2 is to rest the fleshy outer rim of the right palm on the bridge when plucking the string, allowing just enough flesh to touch the strings that the sound produced becomes muted, but not so much that the sound stops short (as in pizzicato). The marcato bar combined with the staccato dot, seen in the B and CB/Gr parts in house D, denotes a mezzo staccato. Mezzo staccato notes are just slightly separated. In this case, I recommend a little emphasis to be put on the mezzo staccato note, and “bounce” the string with the left hand.

House E has been left at 3/4 timing in writing. In reality, all the sections behave as if playing in 3/4 or 6/8 timing at different times. Where I have tried to indicate accurately when the tune is in 3/4 and when the tune is in 6/8 in other houses, the situation in house E is beyond my sanity tolerance level, and so I apologise for any confusion about the barring of quavers here.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Education of Captain Michael

Said Captain Michael to his son little Nikos: "Look here, son. You're no good fighting the Turks hand to hand. Let's get you some education instead." Along came a monk with a hefty tome under his harm. Without a further word, Captain Michael wrapped an apron around his fist, laid the unsuspecting clergyman flat on the ground with a well-aimed punch as he passed, and wrenched the book from the stunned monk's hands. "Here's your education right there," said Captain Michael as he handed the volume to little Nikos. "Why don't you read that education, boy? GO AND READ THAT EDUCATION!"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dream Diaries

Leifur Eriksson
Took an exam for a course for which I had not attended a single lesson. The course was called Greenlandic Culture and History. The exam was invigilated by the (Greenlandic) lecturers: a gruff man in security guard uniform and a taciturn lady. They gave me a funny look when i stepped in, because I was an unfamiliar face. The lady offered me notes because I did not have any. I was relieved not to find a question about the date of Leifur Eriksson's first landing on Greenland, because I have no idea when that was. The questions were mostly on some sausage and other traditional cuisine, but I could easily guess the answers to them. My classmates, who had attended classes every week, were all Indonesians on exchange.

UPDATE: Leifur Eriksson's landing on Greenland is dated AD 986 (source: Wikipedia)

Getting Chased
Was on the run from a pack of soldiers wanting to shoot us. We were a family (parents and 3 kids) from unspecified place in Europe, a girl and myself. They chased us to a pavilion with a maze decoration (maze with walls that go up to mid-calf height) and gave up and declared a ceasefire. Everyone sat down together and took a rest, sitting on the maze walls, then agreed to resume the chase once dinner was finished. The girl and myself were sent out to buy everyone dinner. Unfortunately for us, both the supermarket and the nasi lemak stall were closed. I forgot that we had to return and went home and slept. When I woke up I suddenly remembered again, and boarded the train back to the pavilion. By chance I sat down opposite the girl from the chase, who was now dressed up like a gypsy, in a purple shirt and a bandana. I asked her if she was going back to the chase, and she said yes. We were both empty-handed.

Bodhi Creepers
Climbed a mountain in Indonesia, somewhat inland from Surabaya. I broke from the group with another guy and went straight up the mountain. The mountain was verdant to its peak, covered by a creeper with large leaves shaped like those from the bodhi tree. The roots of the plant are sparse and hardly held together the loose soil underneath. Halfway up the mountain, there was a pool fed in by a hot spring, dyed pale blue like the one near Grindavik in Iceland. The slope to the summit was gentle on one side and steep on another, and a white building was built into the rock at the steeper slope.

Muslim Toilets
I was looking for a toilet in school. Ended up at the basement of this building, which felt more similar to an EPFL building than it is like an NUS building, being octagonal in shape. The door to the toilet on this floor had a sign which proclaimed "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet". When I went in it was a normal toilet, with walls painted pale green below eye level and white above, except that the left wall is mostly empty and one lonely urinal has been installed in the unlit far side. It occurred to me that I did not understand the implications of using this toilet and I decided to look for another one.

There was a flight of stairs leading down from the basement level. I went down that way. The flight was excessively long, about thirty meters deep. The path is in a narrow tunnel that allowed for two people to walk down side by side. At the end there was a hallway with doors marked 1 to 8. I did not heed the numbers and went straight to the one on the far side. That led down to another long flight of stairs, then another hallway identical to the first one, then another flight of stairs, then another hallway...

Finally I reached a wider room, huge, underlit and dank. The space was inhabited with people walking on crutches, but seemed happy otherwise. There was a row of urinals, less intimidating this time, each one bigger than the usual design and with big porcelain lobes at the side to aid the disabled folk. And from that point there was no more dream.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Back Home

The first thing I noticed about Back Home was the terrible elevator music. The next thing I noticed about Back Home is how everyone wants a managerial job involving sitting in an air-conditioned room for 9 hours a day. And thus concludes my reverse cultural shock period.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Exam Season

 A. Wood
Lecturer: Prof. Zürcher from the Bernese Fachhochschule at Biel, specialising in Wood. Received woodblocks to play with, especially the Swiss Stone Pine (Pinus cembra) sample that I sniffed every night before going to bed. Visited wood labs in school. Witness wood welding twice. Started paying attention to trees at the sidewalk, and observed them grow. Cesko baked a cake out of pine nuts, and shared it with the class. Prof. Zürcher is calm and rational in disposition but betrays a disturbing affinity to crackpot theories (thankfully on things not concerning wood). Open book exam. Outcome: Most probably no flunk.

B. Seminar Series
Lecturer: Various. Monday afternoon seminars after lunch, mostly from materials experts, attended mostly by professors, doctorate students, etc. Prof. Niederburger from Zürich, whom we had met earlier in Materials Science Students' Day, appeared again to us one of those Mondays. The no-stick ketchup bottle group from Harvard gave a seminar. The guy who came from the place I was born in gave a seminar. Was tested on the contents of seminars. Outcome: Probably flunk.

C. Photovoltaics
Lecturer: Various, but mainly the Ballif. Exciting and edifying lectures on photovoltaics, scientific advances thereof, market dynamics thereof, and ergonomics and use thereof. Migraine-inducing review of semiconductor physics. Free train tickets for a visit to EPFL's labs at Neuchâtel. The Ballif has 'boss' written all over his face, and his teaching assistants (the Jonas, the Lorenzo, the Benedicte and the Andrea) are without exception dashing geniuses. Highly suspect that the exams is actually a recruitment pitch to the Neuchâtel labs. In any case... Outcome: Most probably flunk.

D. Project Presentation
Supervisor: Kislon. Made a program to count polymer-coated gold nanoparticles. Tough because the AFM and STM images look like porridge. Spent long hours on MATLAB and philosophising, even on my customary long trips around Europe. Working algorithm was achieved. People seem to be impressed by results. Looking for options for doctorate studies / contributions to the open-source STM image analysis software / any other logical next step. Outcome: Did not flunk.

E. Biomaterials
Lecturer: Various, but mainly the Lutolf. The Lutolf is now EPFL's favourite poster boy for Biomaterials, according to co-lecturer Kontos. The Lutolf has started a company selling activated gel with co-lecturers Drs. Rizzi and Sanctuary. Co-lecturer Prof Klok's super-exciting roller-coaster Computational Biology lecture was cancelled (which was bad, just to clarify). Crammed biology concepts in spare time. Critiqued a paper for homework. Open book exam. Outcome: Probably no flunk.

F. Lithography
Lecturer: The Muralt. The Muralt mumbles and laughs at his own jokes. The Muralt is like an angel / Santa Claus during exams, and is prone to small talk and laughter. The course featured labwork heavily, where we built microhotplates. Doctoral students Nachi and Emilie were our guides. Successfully handled hydrofluoric acid wet etch without dying or sustaining griveous injury. Did lab report and learned about a smashing new data analysis tool used by teammate Mohammad. Outcome: Most probably no flunk.

G. Graph Theory
Lecturer: Prof. Pach (Erdős number 1). Prof. Pach comes to every class with a window wiper, which he used to wipe the blackboard clean after running out of space (high-efficiency lifehack pro-tip). Teaching assistant is Filip, a gentle soul with an IQ that is up in the clouds. Relief teacher for two sessions is Bartosz, whom I might have seen one fine Sunday in church (not confirmed). Bonus questions at each exercise formed part of contest, as well as some of the posts on this blog. Less than 50% of the class are native math students. Less than 50% is also the score average of the mock mid-term paper. Highly recommended for EPFL juniors from their seniors for its high passing rate, but one should not let their guard down. Exam was noticeably easier than mid-term. Outcome: Probably no flunk.

H. Numerical Analysis
Lecturer: Ricardo. Ricardo is a nice guy who couldn't teach / gave up trying. The Godfather of Numerical Analysis in EPFL is Alfio Quateroni, who worked at NASA until EPFL lured him across the Atlantic with high pay, but is still nowhere to be seen. Our course materials / textbook are all Quateroni's work. The course used to be taught by him until he gave up trying and re-delegated all that sh-t to poor Ricardo. Skipped most Friday morning lectures / attended only when I need to update myself on the progress. The course is the only one in my list that is taught in French, and is (to some relief) more similar to Engineering Math than to Pure Math. Bonus test happened near the end of school term, where I came in third in a class of 91 people. Final exam coming next Thursday.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Blogging from Reykjavik

I am blogging from Reykjavik, from the hostel next to the city bus terminal called Hlemmur. This is the place from where Josef takes the number 5 to work. An record shop by Smekkleysa is a short walk westwards, plus a shitload of pubs. Reykjavik is the unofficial most underrated nightlife locations in Europe, if I can say that Iceland is part of Europe with a straight face.

Today the plan is to get to Snæfellsjökull through Borgarnes. On Saturday we might go to Þórsmörk for a short walk in the south. On Sunday we get to Þingvellir and all the waterfall stuff near to the capital, and on Monday we go to the Dickmuseum. After that in the evening we shall scram back south to the Burgh. More to follow.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The QMP Team

My very own Finlandbike

Alexander left the team at Aalto Applied Physics for home in Cuba, two weeks after I arrived. They sent him off with an ashtray designed by the great Alvar Aalto himself. They concluded that Aalto made a lot of trashy designs, and then they lol'ed. I gave him a cigarette holder which was the parting gift from a Romanian painter who shared my dorm in the hostel, because I did not smoke.

Before I left for home in August, Mari baked me a pie, which we all shared. The teammates gave me an Angry Birds Space plushie. I was moved to figurative tears.

A Chinese dude joined the team after I left. He bought for himself the same bike that I had sold back to Greenbike. I wonder how much the Greenbike dude had marked up the price when he sold it to him. I wish I heard from the team more often.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Mothers and Daughters

Problem from Session 10: Prove that if mankind will live forever, then there is a woman alive today who will have a daughter who will have a daughter who will have a daughter... for eternity!

In the field of human genetics, the most recent common ancestor of all living humans in the matrilineal line is termed the Mitochondrial Eve, so termed because the mitochondrial DNA (which is only passed from the mother to her children) of all living humans can be traced back to her. This concept draws attention to the fact that for every person alive today, there is an unbroken chain of mother-daughter relationships that links Mitochondrial Eve to their mother or to themselves, if the person is female. Today, we prove that this unbroken chain can be sustained forever, insofar as humanity survives forever.

Reasonable assumptions
1. No-one develops time-travel for the rest of eternity, so no one gives birth to her own grandmother or the like nonsense.
2. Humans will never attain immortality, hence the need for reproduction.
3. Everyone who will ever live must inherit one set of genes from each parent (one male, one female).

We consider the entirety of humankind living from the present time and indefinitely into the future, ignoring the people who lived in the past, as a graph G. Each person is modelled as a vertex. Two persons are connected by an edge if one of the persons is directly descended (genetically, at least) from the other.

Proof: The matrilineal subset F of G is a forest
We now extract a subset of G containing only the matrilineal lines of descent, and call it the matrilineal graph F. To prove that F is a forest, it is sufficient to prove that F contains no cycles. First, note that we only consider edges that join a mother and daughter, and not those that join fathers to sons or daughters, or those that join mothers to sons. For the sake of simplicity, we can eliminate the male person-vertices from F.

Now suppose F is not a forest. Then, the matrilineal graph will contain a cycle. In this case, there will be a woman who gives birth to a daughter, who in turn gives birth to her granddaughter, and so on, until one of the (grand-)ndaughters eventually gives birth to the first woman. Time-travelling speculation aside, this makes no sense and so we should discount the possibility of a cycle occurring in F. Thus, F is a forest i.e. a graph in which all connected components are trees.

Organising the ladies in F into tiers
Having decided on the nature of the matrilineal graph F, we now try to organise the ladies into tiers, so that the ones who are alive today can be treated apart from those who will be born in the distant future. We sort every woman whose mother is no longer alive today into tier 1, their daughters into tier 2, their granddaughters into tier 3, and so on.  All the vertices in F can thus be assigned a tier, as no cycles are present.

Proof: There will be infinite tiers in F
Suppose there will only be a finite number of tiers of women in F. This means that after a number of generations of humankind, there will be no new women in the world. By assumption 2, all the existing women will eventually die, leaving only men. By assumption 3, this means that humankind will die out, because men are incapable of reproduction without women. This contradicts the supposition that mankind will live forever. Therefore, the number of tiers in F is infinite.

Proof: There is a path from any vertex in tier N to a vertex in tier 1 (for all natural numbers N)
We perform a proof by induction on N from N=2. Every woman in tier 2 is descended from at least one woman in tier 1, thus they are connected to tier 1 by a path that consists of one edge. Suppose now that there is a path that connects everyone from tier K to tier 1. As everyone in tier K+1 is descended from at least one woman in tier K, they are connected by a path to tier 1 that consists of the path from tier 1 to their mothers and the edge shared between themselves and their mothers. By induction, there is a path connecting every woman in tier 2 or higher in the graph F to a person in tier 1 for any number of tiers.

No matter how much time passes and how many new generations are born, there will be a path linking a living person to a certain ancestor in tier 1, who is alive today. This shows that the existence of a certain unbroken mother-to-daughter lineage will hold indefinitely.
(22 May 2013, Dorigny in the Switz)

Coin Table

Question from Session 7: There are 1900 one-Swiss-franc coins lying on an enormous table. Some of them might touch each other, but they don't overlap. Show that you can always choose 475 of them such that no two chosen coins touch each other. Can you always choose 601 such coins?

Part I: Can we find 475 non-touching coins?
Yes, we can always find 475 coins that do not touch one another.

We model a graph G in which each one-Swiss-franc coin is a vertex and in which there exists an edge between each pair of coins that touch each other. As the coins are on a table (presumably flat) and do not overlap, we can assume that the graph G is planar. By the four-colour theorem, G can be coloured with four colours.

Let i be a colour such that i∈{1, 2, 3, 4} and let Gi be the subgraph of G containing the vertices coloured i. Then the average size of the subgraph of all the four colours is always:

We consider first the case that Gi=475 for all i∈{1,2,3,4}. Then we can find that all of the Gi are of size 475. This means that all four sets of 475 coins are found such that no coins in the same set touch each other. If there is a certain Gi greater than 475, we can always find a subset of Gi that contains 475 coins such that no coins in the subset touch each other.

We next consider the case that we find a certain Gi less than 475 for another i such that the average subgraph size is 475 and not below 475. It follows that we can find a set of 475 coins from this larger subgraph in which no two coins touch each other.

Part II: Can we find 601 non-touching coins?
We can find 601 coins that do not touch one another in the case where the coins are maximally packed.

It has been proven by Lagrange in 1773 that a lattice arrangement of circles with the highest density is the hexagonal packing arrangement. When the coins are maximally packed, the graph G becomes such that the internal facets of the graph can only be equilateral triangles.

There exists a uniform colouring in three colours (123) for a hexagonal packing arrangement. The 2-colourability of the graph  G of the infinite hexagonal packing is provable by demonstrating 3-colourability on a unit cell of the hexagonal lattice and then tesselating the unit cell indefinitely:

Fig 1. 3-coloured unit cell in the infinite lattice

Then, following the line of thought in the first part, we let i be a colour such that i∈{1,2,3} and let Gi be the subgraph of G containing the vertices coloured i. Then the average size of the subgraph of all the four colours is always:

We can always find a certain Gi such that |Gi|>633 and none of the coins in Gi touch one another, and a subset of 601 non-touching coins can always be found in Gi.

(24 Apr 2013, Dorigny in the Switz)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Last Lectures in EPFL

MSE-461: Class got evicted from lecture theatre, finished the course in a pantry
MSE-470: Dude from WSU comes and introduces to the whole world the small boring town I was born in
BIOENG-442: Business as usual feeling
MICRO-565: Out-of-town lecture in Neuchâtel
MSE-466: Left early (still feeling a bit bad about it)
MATH-360: Won a prize
MATH-250: Everyone clapped when he finished reading from the slides. I don't know why, but I joined them

Monday, May 27, 2013


Question of Session 5: Dwellers of Flatplanet are hostile creatures. Their countries don't even share borders, but are well separated from each other. There are six countries in total, three of them are the Allies, and the other three are, not surprisingly, the Axis. For strategic reasons, each country is topologically connected. An embedded correspondent is informing us that the shortest distance from any of the Allies countries to any of the Axis countries is equal to 1 flatkilometer (a unit of length widely used on Flatplanet). Could she be right?

Assuming that our correspondent’s testimony is true, we model each Allied nation L1, L2, L3 as a topologically connected set of points in euclidean space. As has been provided, they do not share borders. We define sets of points L1+,L2+,L3+ as the points that are less than 1 fkm away and L1e, L2e, L3e as the points that are exactly 1 fkm away from the nearest point in L1, L2, and L3 respectively. We also define the sets X1, X2, X3, each representing a topologically connected piece of Axis territory.
Now we can remodel the map as a graph G containing the points l1, l2, l3, x1, x2, x3 with the following rule: If the set Xn shares at least one point with the set Lme (and does not share any point with Lm+), then there is an edge xnlm in G. Given the known information and the testimony of our correspondent, every edge xnlm (n,m∈{1,2,3}) is an edge existing in G. The resultant graph turns out to be identical to the complete bipartite graph K3,3.

K3,3 represents the countries of Flatplanet situated on a topological surface. Each edge in the graph K3,3 corresponds to a set of “border” points shared between a set Xn and a set Lme. No two Axis countries share the same points. It follows that for the correspondent’s testimony to be true, K3,3 must be a planar graph with no intersecting edges.

Proof that K3,3 is not a planar graph
We aim to prove by contradiction that K3,3 is not a planar graph. Assume that K3,3 is a planar graph, then Euler’s polyhedral formula holds: |V|-|E|+|F|=2. As the number of vertices |V|=6 and the number of edges |E|=9 in this case, we obtain |F|=2-6+9=5.

As there are no loops and two edges connecting the same pair of points, there cannot be a face with only one or two edges. As no two points on the same side are connected, there are also no closed paths that can be achieved by just three edges, as points that are two edges away from each other are always at the same side of the bipartite graph. However, a closed path l1→x2→l2→x1→l1 of 4 edges can be found in the graph. Hence, a face in the graph can only be inscribed by 4 or more edges.

We have determined that |F|=5. Then the sum of the edges of each face can only be equal to or greater than 5×4=20. As each edge can be shared by a maximum of two faces, the number of edges |E|≤20/2=10, with |E|=10 being the case in which all edges are shared.

However, we have already established that |E|=9. We have arrived at the contradiction by assuming that K3,3 is planar graph. Hence, K3,3 is not planar. By our earlier model, it implies that it is not possible for every Allied country on Flatplanet to be exactly 1fkm away from every Axis country, and that our correspondent’s testimony is false.

Another proof that K3,3 is not a planar graph
This should be much less painful to follow. You can ignore the previous section now

(24 Mar 2013, Dorigny in the Switz)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baron Münchhausen

Question from Session 3: Baron Münchhausen is very proud: "I chose a huge set of positive integers smaller than 2013, and yet among any four elements there are two such that one is divisible by the other." He went on boasting to his stupefied audience: "I bet no one could ever find such a set with more elements." However, the infamous storyteller was exaggerating again. The set he had found was rather small. Help him find a set that could save his honor.

Definition of the problem
We are tasked to construct the largest set of numbers such that
1. It is a subset of the set of natural numbers larger than or equal to 1 and less than or equal to 2013.
2. For any four numbers selected from from the set, there is at least one selected number which is divisible by another selected number.
If Baron Münchhausen makes a bet that no one can find a set larger than this set that we will constuct, it will not be possible for him to lose.

Solving the problem with paths
Let us rethink the set of all natural numbers from 1 to 2013 as a directional graph. Each number n is represented by a vertex vn. A vertex vn connects to another vertex vm only if m is divisible by n. For example, one such possible directional path in this graph would be:

The path terminates at the vertex where it is not possible to multiply the number with any other number (picked from 2 to 2013) without producing a number larger than 2013. In the case above, 2772 * 2 = 5544 (> 2013).

For any two numbers picked from the path, the larger one is divisible by the smaller one. This is because we constructed the graph in a way that a vertex on a path is divisible by all its predecessors.
In order to satisfy the condition that for any four numbers chosen in the subset, one of it is divisible by another, we should construct a subset such that all the numbers can fit into three paths. In order to find the largest subset, we should construct the three unique paths that are as long as possible.

Finding the three longest possible unique paths
To find the longest path i.e. the path containing the most number of numbers below 2013, we have to let each successive number on the path be the smallest multiple of its predecessor. This would yield m=2n for every connection vn→vm. We use the smallest number of the set, 1, as the starting vertex for this path:

As 1024 * 2 = 2048 > 2013, the graph terminates. 1024 being 210, this path has 10 + 1 = 11 vertices.

The second longest path uses 3 as the starting vertex, as the numbers 1 and 2 are already included in the first path. As in the last path, we make each successive number in the path to be two times its predecessor:

As 1536 is 3 * 29, this path has 9 + 1 = 10 vertices.

The third path uses 5 as the starting vertex, as the multiples of 4 are already included in the previous two paths. Again we make each successive number in the path to be two times its predecessor:

As 1280 is 5 * 28, this path has 8 + 1 = 9 vertices.

We thus obtain the set of 9 + 10 + 11 = 30 numbers from the above three paths
{1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 16, 20, 24, 32, 40, 48, 64, 80, 96, 128, 160, 192, 256, 320, 384, 512, 640, 768, 1024, 1280, 1536}
For every 4 numbers that are chosen from this set, two will land on the same path.
If two numbers land on the same path, then one number out of the two is divisible by the other. This is just how we have constructed the paths in the first place. So for every four numbers chosen, at least one number is divisible by another in the set.

Also by our construction, this is the maximal set. If the baron had chosen this set instead of whatever he had chosen before, his challenger can never find any larger set of numbers to fulfill the same mentioned criterion.

(13 Mar 2013, Dorigny in the Switz)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Card Trick

The start of a series of bonus questions and solutions done in the Graph Theory course at EPFL (MATH-360)

XDA Wallpapers

Question from Session 2: Two people perform a card trick. The first performer takes 5 cards from a 52-card deck (previously shuffled by a member of the audience), looks at them, keeps one of the cards and arranges the remaining four in a row from left to right, face up. The second performer guesses correctly the hidden card. Prove that the performers can agree on a system which always makes this possible, and devise one such system.

Let us assume that the 52-card deck consists of 4 suits of 13 cards. Let us label the decks C for clubs, S for spades, H for hearts and D for diamonds. A suit X has elements x1, x2, x3, …, 13 that denote the 13 cards in each deck, the subscript being the number value of the card.
Between cards of the same deck, a card with a higher number value has a higher “deck value” (so c2 is more valuable than c1). Between cards of different decks, spades are the most valuable, followed by hearts, diamonds, and clubs.

Guessing the suit of the hidden card
When player 1 (P1) draws a set of five cards from the pile, it is impossible to have every card of a different suit, as there are only 4 suits. Given a suit X with at least 2 cards in the drawn pile which are xn and xm, it is possible for P1 to choose xn as hidden card, and then to place xb as the r-th card in the row (r is predefined and can vary so as to make the trick harder for a spectator to figure out) as a signal to the P2 that the hidden card is of the suit X.
For example, if r=1, X=C, then P1 can choose to make the arrangement

Guessing the number on the hidden card
Next, the number on the revealed card xm and the identities of the other three cards a,b and c are used to communicate the number n of the hidden card. For this, the performers can make use of a graph consisting of a cycle C of 13 vertices v1, v2, v3,…, v13, one for each number value of the card as follows:

The cards a,b and c are defined by P1 and P2 as their deck value, so that a < b < c. Based on how a,b and c are arranged in the row (ignoring xm), P2 starts from the point on the graph with the number value m and then moves along the cycle according to the key:

This is because in C, it is possible to reach any vertex from a start point by a maximum of 6 steps (i.e. after covering 6 edges), as demonstrated below:

P1 should pick xn as the card to hide if it is possible to travel clockwise on C from vm to vn within 6 steps.
With these rules, the suit, as well as the number value of xn, can be unambiguously determined by P2 from the 4 cards displayed by P1.

Overview of performance (Example)
P1 draws 5 cards from the shuffled pile. He draws a set of cards {h1, c13, s1, s3, h8 }. 2 hearts and 2 clubs are present in the 5 cards on his hand. P1 chooses Hearts as the suit of his hidden card.
As it is possible to travel clockwise on the cycle from v8 to v1 within 6 steps, but not possible to travel clockwise on the cycle from v1 to v8 within 6 steps, P1 can choose to hide h1 and display h8 in the leftmost position in the row:

P2 now knows that the hidden card belongs to the suit H.
To instruct P2 to find out the number value of the hidden card, he fills up the remaining positions of the row with the remaining cards in the order (c, b, a), where a has the lowest deck value and c has the highest deck value. In this case, the sequence (c, b, a),  yields (s3,s1,c13). So P1 displays:

By comparing the deck values of the rightmost 3 cards, P2 now understands that he must make six jumps from vertex v8 on C in the clockwise direction. He does so through a mental calculation and arrives at v1. He now knows that the hidden card has a number value of 1. With this information in hand, he deduces that the hidden card is h1, or Ace of Hearts.

(28 Feb 2013, Dorigny in the Switz)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nicknames I gave to things

The Switz - Switzerland
The Lux - Luxembourg
The Liech - Liechtenstein
Czechland - Czech Republic
Unicorn Skittlefarts Land - Sweden
Dudetown - Dudelange (the Lux)
Dootztown - Vaduz (the Liech)
I-forgot-what-this-place-is-called - Paris

Swiss Cheese - Rolex Learning Center EPFL
Kangaroo Clacks Tunnel - Renens Gare CFF Underpass
Harpist's Tunnel - Same underpass, but more recent
Earthworm Path - Dirt path from Marcolet to Epenex Metro Station
Gangster Path - Rue des Alpes, Crissier and Renens

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lausanne Mesologue

Here be a record of teachings I find to be worth repeating to the internet.
Yes, sober, serious information for the studious gentleman; it has solved many a world's problem and kicked many an ass. Courtesy of the professors and fellow students of EPFL, and many other people who are around.

More to follow

Photovoltaics Stop Press: Prof. Balliff returns from China! He reports a scene of carnage in the industry: The price war for solar cells are keeping prices artificially low, and crashing many a small company. The selling price is 57¢CHF/Wp, way below the production+sales cost of 75-80¢/Wp. This is good news for consumers i.e. electrical engineers but quite bad news for people who make these things i.e. materials engineers.

Today we were taught how to bend over backwards and make architects happy by turning solar cells a cheerful shade of orange to suit the (Swissy) houses, at a cost of energy efficiency.

So this is how a tree grows: from a layer under the bark, where there be stem cells that differentiate to become the sapwood or the bark. A tree grows layers and layers out of itself, each new layer heralded by the budding.

The budding just happened here (friggin' everywhere).

In the course of the year, there is a period for which the tree grows quickly, and a period for which the tree grows slowly. The wood that has grown during the lull makes a dark ring that is visible in the severed trunk. A hardwood that grows quickly is less dense than normal, while a softwood that grows quickly is more dense than normal, and is more valued for timber for a variety of reasons.

Wooden crates have doubtful standards of hygiene when used for food packaging, all things considered.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Small Places

Niamh Ní Charra, Dudelange (Lux.), 13 Apr 2013

Normally, at this time of the week, I should be mugging my butt off. However, I am feeling up for a goof-off for today for no reason that I can pinpoint at the moment. Perfect. I shall write about Luxembourg and Ireland when I still have the time and will to do so.


Georges Siménon Youth Hostel, Liège

Trip commenced last Friday 12 of April 2013, ended Sunday 14 April 2013.
Friday's Route: Lausanne - Basel - Köln - Aachen - Liège
Friday's Stay: Georges Siménon Youth Hostel
Saturday's Route: Liège - Luxembourg - Bettembourg - Dudelange
Saturday's Stay: Hotel Mille 9 Sens
Saturday's Event: Zeltik 2013, at Lycée Nic-Biever Sports Hall, 1800h to late
Sunday's Route: Dudelange - Bettembourg - Metz - Strasbourg - Basel - Lausanne

The routes covered four countries in 13 train rides: Germany (Rhinelands), Belgium (Wallonia), Luxembourg and France (Lorraine and Alsace). It's a crazy, crazy, compacted trip. I still have no idea how I managed it in three days. I shan't be taking the train again for awhile.

Trip-related expenses: 507.34 CHF (equivalent)

Compared to the scale of the weekend trip, the motivation sounds quite stupid... Tri Yann is touring Europe this year, like they do pretty much every year, and they happen to be in Luxembourg on a weekend, when I'm free and not enjoying all my schoolwork. I wanted to see Tri Yann, and I wanted to see a new country.

The way I took into Luxembourg was chosen for the added benefit of landing me into Germany and Belgium, instead of through Paris. I have likewise never been to Germany nor Belgium before. Going to those two places now grants me the irrational thrill as I do this to my travel map:


My real motivation is Tri Yann, as previously mentioned. They are very important so they go into the next section.

Tri Yann
Tri Yann is a folk-rock band who hails from Nantes. The name Tri Yann means Three Yanns, and sure enough, the three core members of the group are all called Jean (Yann is the Breton version). Nantes is the old capital of Brittany, which is in turn the capital of France. Lately, however, the boring suits at I-forgot-where-they-were-based-at have decided to cut Nantes away from Brittany and then make it the capital of the Loire Valley instead. So the Nantais of today are always ambiguous about the Brittanyness (or Bretonnitude) of the city whenever I ask them about it. What a shame.

Anyway these here below are the three Yanns. As you can see, they debut each act dressing up like idiots. From left to right, they are Jean Chocun, on the mandolin and dressed up as a garden, Jean-Louis Jossic, on the vocals and dressed up like a tea party and smelling of incense, and then Jean-Paul Corbineau, also on the vocals and dressed up as a lighthouse.

The instrumentalists of Tri Yann are the piper Konan Mevel (thatch kilt), the pianist Fred Bourgeois (crusader), the drummer Gérard Goron (slain pirate), the electric guitarist Jean-Luc Chevalier (bear), and the fiddler Christophe Peloil (traffic cones). Chevalier spasms on the guitar, Bourgeois flips the drum onto Jossic by accident and Mevel plays the binioù and etc. with the most anguishingly morose face that anyone has ever seen on a man in a skirt.

Of course, singing and playing on stage with Tri Yann being very strenuous exercise, they shed their costumes little by little along the way. But not too much.

You might have thought me a bit of a Tri Yann junkie. Well, I met a couple who were such diehard fans of them they put me to shame. The Italian dude and his wife seem to have sold all their belongings, gave the proceeds to the poor and then set off to trail Tri Yann in their European tours. I bought a shirt with the Tri Yann logo on it and stood with them right to the front of the stage. For three hours. Three deafening, Breton-chanting, chorus-screaming hours with spontaneous line-dancing.

Now excuse me while I put up more pictures to satisfy my irrational glee

The bands from Ireland, Luxembourg and the Moselle

An Erminig - Interestingly enough, a German band playing Breton music and now based in Rouhling in France just over the border. The dudes sported neat moustaches and sang well, so I bought their CD.

Luxembourg Pipe Band - The local bagad kindly graced the opening and the middle (midnight) timeslots and primed our eardrums for the other bands / made sure we never heard anything else ever again.

The Luxembourg Bagad

Niamh Ní Charra and Ciorras - Two younger bands from Ireland, from where I learned finally the meaning to the song where the dude gets married to an old but filthy rich lady, and all his friends made fun of him. It's strange how I went all that way to Ireland and then came to see them again in the deepest darkest reaches of the continent here in the Lux.


The other small places
1. Köln
A year ago, Tina came here to Cologne for a short trip an hour long. All she saw was the cathedral. All I recalled about the place was that all the trains were late; they came late to the station and departed late too, and I miraculously did not manage to miss a single connection. I had ten minutes to spend in Cologne and here's all what I have to show for it.

The church is too large to fit into the camera frame, but never mind. Frankly speaking, I have had quite enough of churches for purposes other than mass, and it felt weird every time I stepped into a place of worship with a big camera rather than sit down and think about the universe or something to that effect. Moving on to Liège.

2. Liège
Liège is on the river Meuse (Maas) rather than the Rhine. Its relation to the Rhine is ambiguous. As is evident from this map, the Meuse flows from France and approaches the Rhine, going alongside her in the Netherlands, flowing ever so close to her but never actually touching her throughout his course, before giving up and dumping himself into the Zeeland delta. I had heard that Liège is a little dangerous but have never really felt it, but it could be because of the thunderstorm that drove the loiterers indoors, leaving me outside because I am badass.

The next day I had two hours free to walk in the city. I apologise for touring a church again (Cathédrale Saint-Paul de Liège) but frankly it was quite a great feeling to be inside.

I am very tempted to assume that this guy is Saint Paul and this shot re-enacts the time of his conversion.

Also, Ireland has a way of catching up with you.

3. The Lux (in the country)
I have said before that Sweden is the national embodiment of sexiness. If that is so, then Luxembourg is the national embodiment of cuteness. It is a nice and fun-sized place. Hills are short, gorges are shallow and meadows are plentiful. Anyway, here's a picture again, because I am Asian, and Asians are physiologically required to take a picture every six breaths we take, lest our mothers berate us.

O well, you get the point

4. The Moselle
Here is where every other small town has a name that ends with -ange. It's only in the area just around Thionville and a sliver of southern Lux where this happens. Where this suffix comes from is a mystery to me.

The river Moselle flows through Thionville. I had evidently startled her without her make-up on, and she was yellow and stagnant and clogged with rubbish. What a shame.

5. Strasbourg and Alsace
Here is the bit in France where all the places sound German and the only French things apparent from the train window is the SNCF logo. I had a stopover in Strasbourg, where I had twenty minutes of recovery from taking the train.

Well Strasbourg had a church again, but I found their trams really cute.
It also thrills me to find out whenever you look at the train station from the outside, you can see the rest of the city.

Okay, that's enough traveling for the month.
Talking about churches, I did manage to return to Lausanne by 7pm to attend the 8pm mass at Renens. It was my biggest achievement of the whole weekend.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Dublin Airport, Overnight

I don't know how many times a traveler has to endure this kind of situation before he becomes somewhat salty. In any case, today is my first time missing my flight. I have to get out of Ireland anyway so that I can meet Angi in Lyon, and I promised to arrive by train. And NO ONE ever breaks a promise made to a Finnish guy.

The new flight cost me like a kick in the nuts. I shall spend the night in this airport, then check in my whole jolly backpack tomorrow, because I might as well use my money's worth. Ryanair, suck this! I'm glad to be from Asia!

Hello again, London.
Ireland was good. I will blog soon about this country. No, Ryan, you're not in this.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Foreign Land

First Impressions
The Switz has been known, from time immemorial, for their mountains and things, and also chocolate and bling watches and lederhosen. This is so oft-repeated that it is barely worth mentioning except as a courtesy gesture, so I shall move on to the rest of the passage.

The minaret at Wangen bei Olten (Wikimedia)

The Minaret Referendums in the Switz occurred in 2009, four years after my first visit to the country (which I have mostly good memories of). The details you can read sure enough in the link, but I should highlight here the outcome: fifty-eight percent of the Swiss voters opposed the construction of new minarets.

Now it so happens that minarets are supposed to be more than mere appendages to mosque buildings, but the most essential part. An enclosed prayer hall was as an import from Christianity; mosque architecture was developed from an re-appropriated Saint Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul. On the other hand, the minaret has been part of the Muslim place of worship since the dawn of the religion. So the Swiss have effectively banned building mosques in the country. I am not so sure now if it was because the fifty-eight percent of the eight million did not understand the significance of the minaret, or that they just wanted the brown people out. Either possibility would have been quite disappointing.

At the start of the year, a Swiss student, who had been on exchange in my university, went missing in Thailand. Her name was Tscherina, and her disappearance triggered a frenzied search. For a time, Facebook was full of well-meaning posts passing on the contacts of her worried mother, so that whoever has found Tscherina could contact her. Soon the wave of mainstream media overtook the wave of social media and caught her pants-down at a Thai border post, overstaying the tourist visa for three days, and, by some fantastic feat, also accused of stealing a camera. I had read that the Swiss were a people who were very good at getting their shit together. The first concrete example I heard of on that matter has turned out to be negative.

So I came to the country with pretty low expectations. I did not expect to be living among a people who were stoic and honest, like the Finns, nor spontaneous and sociable as the Russians. I did not expect to enjoy all the new experiences the country has to offer, because the ones I knew of no longer inspired any feelings of novelty. I expected a strange people speaking a somewhat familiar language in which I have been drilled for slightly over a year's worth of lessons. Only the Institute here provided any real draw, with its hearty servings of seminars, courses and research projects.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Native Land

There's a great sense of joy and accomplishment to be found, while in a foreign land, to be able to live as if you were a native of your host country: to speak as the natives speak, to enjoy what the natives enjoy, to navigate the streets by memory, to hop on or off a bus or tram at will, and to swim and live in its laws and bureaucratics as if it was all nothing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

From the desk at Crissier

The reformation fathers, and among their ranks Cromwell, a known scoundrel and tyrant

A summary of the first week of school:
ONE: Bureaucracy. Course registration last until the end of the second week in school, so people are still free to take up or drop classes as they please. Of course, the professors do not care whether you come for lectures or not, but the most important bits were still covered in the first lecture, so one is in a bit of a rut if he was busy in the first week and has no one in class to whom he can flood questions.

Residence permit is finally settled, on my third try of applying to the Crissier population office.
Bank account with PostFinance is now fully functional. They gave me my account details over the counter, then mailed me a cute calculator device for the e-banking, then mailed me me the e-banking number and password, and then the card, and then the pin, all in separate servings. This is just being extremely safe. In comparison, Nordea mailed me everything at one go, seven days after my application, and in Singapore one could get his card over the counter, and people just looked at you funny if you braced yourself for any more paperwork.

TWO: Courses. Materials semester project, Lithography, Biomaterials, Photovoltaics, Wood, Graph Theory and Numerical Analysis, in this order throughout the week. Textbooks from La Fontaine (bookstore in Swiss Cheese building) and free leisure reading from La Riponne. 

There will be a class presentation and my subject would be on a Swiss pine, though I wondered sometimes if only I could present on a tropical species and talk about a tree species that is closer to heart, like teak or something similar.

THREE: Geneva. We went to Geneva to crash Szu Yu's kitchen for dinner. Before the dinner we scoured the earth for cheap restaurants and chocolatiers and luxury-brand stores that the gang stared hungrily at but never stepped in. The season being winter, we wound up spending much of the afternoon indoors in a glassware and ceramics museum, which had free entrance.

The city was a stronghold of the Swiss reformation. It held a peculiar air, as if the statues of the Reformation fathers are suddenly alerted to my presence and are now glaring judgmentally at this intruding vestige of the old faith all the way across the city. This is in contrast of the feeling one gets when with the Finnish Lutheran fathers' statues (e.g. Agricola), who radiated only apathy.

FOUR: Church. It seems that going to the 8pm mass is a bad idea, whether at the Basilica or at St Francis. So few people were at Saint Francis yesterday that only the side chaplet was open. It so happens that there was a Parish special guy in the service, who instead of offering the Sign of Peace to just the people in the immediate vicinity, offered it to the whole church while the priest waited patiently for him to finish. The priest had an Iberian accent and he seemed almost, at times of weakness or distraction, to lapse back to Spanish or Portuguese or whatever it was that he spoke before he took up French. Mass in English are available once a month in Saint-Sulpice and once a month in Bussigny, rendering people like me wandering, parishless folk.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From the desk at Ecublens

The (Gallo-Roman) city of Lausanne in ruins

ONE. I have landed at Lausanne on Tuesday last week. I have been feeling zonked and nervous by the long plane ride and the swarthy, menacing disposition of the locals (as compared to that of the Finns, which was merely apathetic). At the train station someone tried to speak to me. He was a beggar who had journeyed many miles from faraway Italy in order to ask two francs from unsuspecting people at the Lausanne Gare. However, I did not have change, and ran away as quickly as I could dragging my luggage.

For my first week, I stayed in the hostel, the one between the Roman ruins of Lousonna and the museum exhibit concerning the ruins. Toilet was in bad shape but breakfasts and public transport were all free, so that was okay.

The heart of activity in this commune is the Riponne. At Riponne there is a square where flea markets selling cheese, vegetables, old books, old hats, etc. sprout Wednesdays and Saturdays. There is a so-called palace built for the public from the money of a Russian prince, housing several museums and a public library. The Basilica is on the other side of the square, undergoing renovations and thereby repelling all but the most hard-headed of tourists (and Catholics).

Branching south of the Riponne in a spidery network are pedestrian streets, along which luxury boutiques, factory outlets, bookstores and Asian supermarkets are implausibly juxtaposed.

Lausanne overlooks the lake Léman. The port is unfortunately named Ouchy, by an accident of orthography. Also overlooking the lake are several sh-tloads of mountain ranges. Yes, we don't just see France from here every day - it looms over us.

TWO. Contact Singapore, the agency under the wing of the ambassador in Geneva, has organised for us two free meals. Their stated mission is to try to get Singaporeans back to work in Singapore... ... ... In any case, free food has always been welcome, and even more vehemently so in these parts.

THREE. Lessons in EPFL. Because I don't know how to enjoy myself, I am now taking a 27 ECTS semester. This includes a project (8 credits) trailblazing in the field of Microscopic Data Analysis. I will be doing something similar in concept to facial recognition, so wish me luck.

FOUR. I am living in Crissier, three communes away from Lausanne. The place sells itself by its peaceful location and peaceful it truly is. It is thankfully 3 km from school but unfortunately 3 billion km from Lausanne. Next to my place is a socio-cultural centre which never seems to be open. There is a view to the north, where there are large expanses of flatland.

FIVE. Snow. I have been doing a survey on snow. I have concluded that snow behaves like a low-temperature ceramic, and all the physical processes in ceramic component manufacturing can be demonstrated with snow. For example, snowballs are best made with fresh snow, which are fine-grained. The making of snowballs is sintering in elevated temperatures and pressures (applied by hand). Late snow exhibits evidence of coarsening and Ostwald ripening. Now the snow are almost all melted, but I still enjoy crunching them around under my boots. I am an immature person. I'm sorry.