Of legends

13 October 2013

It was a eventful week at Penn State: homecoming weekend with fancy parades, an above average home game in football (if you watched the game you will know that this is a gross understatement), and BB King held a concert at Bryce Jordan.

I went to the concert, convincing a couple of my friends to join me to see one of the biggest legends in blues history in person. Shortly after the artist had made his entrance and played his intro song, he said:

I had a birthday two weeks ago. I turned 88.

The crowd cheered. I smiled wide: here was a man 4 times my age, still doing his thing - definitely worthy of admiration. Lets see if I will still be standing at that age - let alone still be playing my guitar!

I knew this before going of course. My father said he remembered his name even from his days, and my brother was surprised he was still alive!

You could not help but notice that old Riley B's solos were a bit fatigued. However, he still had his voice, which was the main thing. I remember my cousin telling me about going to one of Bob Dylan's concert not too long ago - his two packs a day for I don't know how many decades certainly affected his singing performance. Old Riley, however, sitting on his chair with his semi-hollow Lucille in hand, in a slow and wise manner told us jokes about his band members as he introduced them one by one. They were all in their later years it seemed; and according to old Riley, some of them were with him "when they were 'a finishing the pyramids". Shortly later, with full fervor he let us know that The Thrill was Gone.

As the show was drawing to a close, he asked;

Well, these good folks over here have only allowed me a certain time frame I must adhere to - but, really, why don't they just let me play as long as I want?

-- BB King; the undefeated, a legend to the last.

11 October 2013

AstroNight

05 October 2013

I decided to volunteer for AstroNight, an annual outreach event held by the astronomy department, supposedly a smaller variant of its bigger brother AstroFest which I haven't attended yet. I took my new 1.4 aperture with me - I wanted to test it out.

Regretfully the weather wasn't good. Some of us feared that the people that really wanted to do the observing wouldn't come at all. Nevertheless, a lot of people showed up, and all volunteers had a lot to do.

Initially not knowing my place, I ended up being a greeter. I have never seen so many people in Davey. It seemed like the place to be at! The two main elevators just brought waves, and waves of new people. Sometimes I greeted people twice. It didn't matter I think - they just asked more questions instead!

There were many stations; non-newtonian fluids, lots of 3D shows, various talks, planetarium shows, observations (mostly showing them the telescopes - but supposedly the weather got a little bit better with time), comet making, simple spectrographs, quizzes with prizes, and whatnot related to astronomy & astrophysics.

In all it was very similar to the outreach activites I've done back in Iceland, as a part of the math & physics community there. Thus, empirically I conclude; people from two different continents seem to behave in a very similar manner at science outreach activities.

Tailgate

14 September 2013

"What is a Tailgate?" - I naively asked my friend. "Its something typically American - you should come!", she answered. I did.

The jist: Its basically an excuse to have fun.

It usually involves grillin, and beer. Moreover, you aren't obliged to go to the football game that follows - well, I didn't have a ticket. I still have no idea how that sports works - I guess I have to make up it at some point during my years here.

But wow. There were a lot of people around. The town practically exploded. "During game weekends State College becomes the third biggest town in PA" - duly noted! Supposedly Penn State takes tailgating to another level - Beaver Stadium could house the population of my whole capital easily!

Two random things; met a fellow that had visited Iceland - he said he would easily do it again, anytime. I know I would too. Second, some people seem to possess a natural talent in drinking games.

Canoeing!

07 September 2013

Went canoeing in the Juniata river. It was great - a relieve from all of the duties that surround a new life in another country, in another continent.

Overall the trip was deemed a success as we did not capsize the boat. I however fell in the water, in a well, very unprofessional manner.

Zermatt - Chamonix

24 August 2013

Of all the mountains in the Alps there were two that I especially wanted to see; Matterhorn, and Mont Blanc.

I ended up going there. Not just myself, but with a group of great friends, from 4 different continents. Its more fun that way, I think.

At some point I tried to describe the trip in a few words:

Numerous mountains visited; 4 continents represented; 3 countries visited; 9 wine bottles drunk; 3km changes in elevation; endless amounts of Swiss chocolate eaten; hundreds of kilometers driven; few hours slept; many photos taken; many stories told; many laughs shared, all in two days --- Viking, Viking One calls the other Viking Vikings, and thanks for a great goodbye trip! -- I hope you continue to row as tenaciously as you did this summer, in your own corner of the globe!

To the West!

12 August 2013

I don't know how many goodbyes I have said this last week.

A little less than a week ago, I left CERN. I'm not sure how I would describe this summer I spent there. It would probably be a long list of positive words about new experiences, friends, physics, travelling, mountains, photography, Ge detectors, poetry, girls, France, languages, Swiss chocolate and Swiss expenses - (well the last one is perhaps more associated with negative words).

I had my final research presentation on the day before the last - the only notable thing about it was that there was a power outage in the middle of the presentation. Guess what happened? An immediate Q&A session!

The following night went by; I did not sleep much.

The last day dawned. Finishing the departure formalities took almost the whole day - of those formalities, returning my personal dosimeter was the worst. I liked that thing, it was a reminder that I (for a while at least) was a part of something big, a sort of a "functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me. Also, among all the physics and computer science majors, it was a quite cool thing to have - believe it or not! Would it be cool to have it elsewhere? I don't know - people might think I was crazy, or paranoid; measuring radiation? - Crazyness is statistical.

Talking about crazyness - me and some of my friends decided to jump from a bridge the last day, at the river intersection in Geneva, where you can see the two rivers merge of different colour. This might sound worse than it really was, but this is actually a quite common thing to do on sunny days in Geneva, as the bridge is quite low. However, we got to the place really late, everything being almost pitch black; and we abandoned the idea. Regardless of the lack of Sun, and jumping of bridges, the night was quite full; full of friends, memories, wine, games, stories, jokes about rabbits&ducks, South-American slang, but also full of goodbyes, and promises of meeting together next year. I do hope we make it.

After solving my non-trivial problem of having my "expired" temporary access note taken away from me, and having no bike to get back (not trivial), we laughed, we laughed at the idea that tomorrow, some of us were going to our own corner of the globe.

I vaguely remember packing - a subtle thing which I had totally disregarded - at 6 am in the morning. 3 hours later my journey westward started.

I wasn't in the best condition to travel: I missed my first train to Zurich, where my first flight in a very long chain of flights would be taking off. From my stay in Switzerland I knew why they like watches so much - they are punctual people; the flight would not wait. I waited, half-patiently, for the next train.

It turned out that one of my Turkish friends was taking the train to Lausanne on the same platform. Merhaba - nasılsın?!. These greetings were quickly followed by a fitting goodbye; Hoşçakal, a goodbye, which literally says that you leave smiling. I added some more Turkish to my modest collection of Turkish words that I already learned from some of my friends during my travels the year before, but that is another story.

I somehow got on the next train, half-asleep, and half-kept going by my dread of starting a domino cascade of lost flights. I have never seen so many people in a train before: everybody was going to the festival in Zurich! A group of very stereotypic-party-types resolved to have a kind of a pre-party in the Northbound train. I didn't really mind, I kind of smiled, I think, half-asleep, while others were cursing them for their loud noises, liquor, and various different flavours of smoke.

I had a connecting flight in Paris, and from there I went to the Iceberg, North of the Wall. I saw a famous post from the airplane window; somewhat lost between its brothers carrying the electric power lines. The plane back home was filled with Parisians, all of which I noted were wearing anoracks, scarfs, and hiking boots "... you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they go, where they've been." I smiled. I slept. I got out of the plane. I was cold - I was home.

This day and a half has been strange: My travels are only starting, and I've had a tune by the lads from Liverpool ringing in my head the whole time; saying hello, and goodbye to everybody at the same time.

I'm now in the airport, again, waiting. I suspect that this tune by the lads will continue to ring in my head for quite a while.

Well,
On we sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore...

28 July 2013

A Birthday with Borges

27 July 2013

"Hey, let's surprise our friend on his birthday in a graveyard!". At first, I was a bit sceptical about this idea, but upon execution it was quite surprising to our friend and the whole thing went surprisingly well.

However, this was not some random graveyard, which, if it was, could have acted as an ironic remainder of his (and our) eventual demise, but a very specific graveyard: the Cimetière des Rois or Cemetery of Kings), where J. L. Borges is buried - our friend's favorite poet. We sat there by his tomb, a group of 11, and recited some of our favorite poems and short stories by him. Having only read one piece by him beforehand, a short story called Borges and I, or Borges y yo in the original language, I didn't have much choice in choosing my contribution. This piece, Borges and I, is a (really) short story he wrote about what he thinks of his image when he was an old and famous writer. I recommend reading it, both the original Spanish version and an English translation can be found here. Supposedly though Borges himself was against translations, as things tend to get lost in translation. We discussed about this right up to the limits of logic , as we came from varying cultures from four different continents, having only English as our common language. We finally agreed that whenever we had the occasion we read both versions of a given piece (as most of Borges' pieces were in Spanish); the original one for appreciation, and its translation for understanding.

One thing I immediately found curious, is that that on the rear side of his tombstone is written "Hann tekr sverthit Gram ok leggr i methal theira bert" - Old Nordic! I was amazed! Most of the words were very similar to their modern Icelandic counterparts, so I deciphered/translated it for my friends; He takes the sword Gram and lays the naked blade between them (a reference to Völsungasaga - The Saga of the Völsungs!) My friend explained that Borges used a lot of references in his works, often to the old Nordic sagas, which he highly appreciated. He liked the "get-straight-to-the-point" approach of old Nordic storytelling, greatly contrasting the long-phrased poems and prose common in the Spanish language.

Never have I felt more like being in the movie Dead Poets Society.

Well, until next time; ¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, adentro!

Bern

21 July 2013

I like travelling. I try to do as much of it when I have the chance, and when I have the friends to take with me; travelling is much more fun with friends.

We decided to go to Bern - one more day of getting up way too early after too little sleep.

I won't do a chronological account of this trip or anything, as it was mostly characterized of spontaneous, on-the-fly decisions. I'll post a few pictures though - I might say a few words about them.

One thing though; I recommend checking out Adventure-House in Bern, its a cool place run by a cool physicist.

Does a cola bottle (unopened) float in water?
Is, uhm, a tree in the pattern?
...

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood,
with his memories in a trunk,
passed this way an hour ago,
with his friend a jealous munk.

Now he looked so immaculately frightful,
as he bummed his cigarette,
then he went off sniffing drainpipes,
and reciting the alphabet.

You would not think to look at him,
but he was famous long ago,
for playing the electric violin,
on Desolation Row.

...

Contact Info

Guðmundur Kári Stefánsson

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email: gws5257 [at] psu.edu

Recent posts!

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19 September 2014 MLI Blankets

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21 July 2014 Astrofest 2014

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