Sunday, June 25, 2006

chinese secret service

It's time to go to bed, but I'm still up. And while my Thinkpad is quietly doing its thing (and certainly taking its time), my old Sony serves as a typewriter. What's going on?

A while back I posted about updating my systems. While the verdict was clear (linux easy, windows hard), I was nevertheless quite delighted with the automated updating tool that lenovo provides - lenovo of course being the Chinese company that bought IBM's PC operations shortly after I bought my notebook. Turns out I was delighted prematurely.

Right at the time of the earlier post, I installed the ThinkVantage Client Security Solution, a piece of software that would make use of the security chip built into my computer and keep evil-doers at bay. Not that I'm surrounded by evid-doers, I just gullibly clicked yes when I was asked whether to install the long list of updates and improvements. And that's probably how the Chinese Secret Service took over my computer (Chinese smart, Andreas stupid), because when I tried to boot the next time, all I saw was a little box telling me that the security system is blocked from interacting with the operating system. Fine.

I was locked out of my computer. That's not too tragic, as linux keep running (and outperforming). But I paid good money for Microsoft Office and Adobe CS and would like to use this software. I needed to get Windows back working.

The smart user that I sometimes imagine I am, I do regular back-ups. I plugged my external hard-disk in, booted the Acronis recovery CD and discovered two things. (Bad news comes in pairs, at least.) First, the latest images of drive C were unreadable because created with a newer version of Acronis than the recovery CD was made with. Second, the oldest image was readable but compromised and thus useless.

Luckily, I found an unused hard disk floating about in my apartment. I put it into my laptop and installed Windows on in with the help of four IBM recovery CDs. Then, which means two hours and about three dozen reboots later, I reinstalled the newest version of Acronis and checked the backed-up images. Five minutes into the process, I started this post, and now the progress bar warns me that three more hours remain. I give up for tonight. Maybe tomorrow morning will greet me with better news. Good night.


Le tour starts in six days, and I'm really anxious to see who's going to win now that the mighty Texan has bid his farewell. Is it gonna be Basso who already took third and second place in the last two years and who won the Giro earlier this year? Is it gonna be Valverde who showed a few nice efforts last year before abandoning because of knee problems? Is it gonna be Vinokurov, my favorite Kazakh, whose team is deep into a doping scandal and has just lost its main sponsor? Or is it gonna be bulky Jan who does the Giro as a training ride and wins the Tour de Suisse with less kilometers in his legs than I get riding to lab every morning?

These are all good questions, but it's a bit early to contemplate them. The decisive stages will take place late into the race - around my birthday to be specific, and around Grenoble, in a nice coincidence. Alpe d'Huez and La Toussuire are both only a short ride away.

But before I plan a few days off for le tour, I'll get myself high on soccer. I'll take my camera, my two square meters of Germany that have traveled with me for the last eight years and a lungful of yelling and dive into the madness in Frankfurt towards the end of this week. Reading BBC, the Spiegel and le Monde, I can't wait to be "zu Gast bei Freunden". But at the airport in Lyon, I'll buy the latest Velo and read about le tour and make plans.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Schwarz Rot Gold

When Germany was awarded the 2006 football World Cup, so many years ago, an idea budded in me: being there for the show. This dream grew into full-blown baloney while I was watching the 2002 World Cup with friends in the basement of my house in Utah. Fascinated with dancing Koreans wielding chop sticks and hugging every foreigner in sight, I decided to spend time in every single city where games are played, hoping the atmosphere would be equally nice in Germany. Quite a program, but it seemed reasonably to me at the time.

As is it oftentimes is with crude ideas, the closer they come to fruition the more they lose their allure. Germany is far away, I have to work, it's too hot for traveling. So I've been sitting in various bars or in front of my TV for the last two weeks following games and watching people dancing and hugging each other. But the idea in the back of my head was calmly insisting on being taken seriously.

Tonight I booked a flight to Frankfurt for the day before the quarter finals, returning the day after the semis. My sister will take me to some big screen where I will join hundreds in watching us kick Argentina out of the competition. And then it might be Italy in the semis.

Should I have waited one more day before buying the ticket? What if Sweden tomorrow...? I'm optimistic – this is going to be a great World Cup. The team has really convinced me with their second and third games. And in any case, the beer is going to be much better than in France.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

back from Erice

Tonight I came back from Erice, a picturesque medieval town down in Sicily and up on a hill. In fact, it is that high up on a hill that it was mighty nippy the first few days of my stay. I left Grenoble ten days ago where temperatures getting high into the eighties for the first time this year. In Erice, it was barely 70, and I got a cold after a few days. It didn't seem to help much that the mercury rose gradually over the days that followed. I spent long hours in an air-conditioned auditorium, and the bright sun that hit me when I had a chance to venture outside only added to my misery by teasing me with mischief.

I wasn't in Erice for the sun or vistas of the sea. No, science was on my mind. A School of Crystallography had tempted me. I answered eagerly, but what I got was not easily digestible edification. Instead, I enjoyed the most dense and most intense scientific conference that I had ever been too. And it's hard to imagine anything more hard-core. The world of structural biology was united. Only few name were missing. And nearly one hundred talks covered nearly all fields in biology that are currently getting structural attention.

It was exhausting and maybe even a little much. But it was certainly impossible to justify missing even a single presentation.

I took two points home with me. First, great science is being done in the US, but also in Europe. Second, great food is being served in Europe, and life is good. I have to figure out how this adds up for me by next July when my fellowship comes to and end.

Currently, I have more ideas about what to do than where to do it, and I'll go to lab tomorrow with strongly refreshed motivation and energy. It's going to be 90 degrees.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Who needs the Galibier?

I had been thinking about setting out for the Galibier this morning. However, it was not as warm as I would have wished it to be, especially for climbing 2400m, and it was very windy. So I went for the next best thing, a climb that starts literally two miles from my front door.

The Col de Porte is an ascent that I've done many times before. One hour of stiff riding takes you up 1070m. What I discovered yesterday is that, once at the pass, one can continue on a narrow road on the left that switchbacks up another 350m to arrive in a wild Alpine setting with patches of snow and bare rocks littering a wide expanse of green. The climb totals 21km with an average gradient of 6.8%. Nothing to break the will of champions, but a formidable challenge and the perfect aggression-releasing after-work work-out. The whole thing can be done in just about two hours.

If I could just drag my lazy ass up there more often.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

the end of an era

In August 1998, one week after moving to Salt Lake City for my Ph.D., I bought my mountainbike. It was a used Trek 990, a heavy beast of steel, small and vicious. On it, a little shaky at first but always doing damage to my friends on climbs, I discovered off-road riding. The Wasatch Crest Trail marked my first real ride, a few days after buying the bike. I loved it. Other trails that grew dear to me were the Pipeline and Original Trails around Salt Lake and the Porcupine and Poison Spider Trails near Moab.

The bike held up amazingly well until 2003 when everything seemed to fall apart almost at once. First, at the legendary Intermountaincup season opener down in Saint George, going through snow, slush, mud, and water, the forked seized up and needed to be replaced. I took the opportunity to go sissy and swapped the steel hardtail for an aluminum fully, a Fuel 90 frame.

A little later, after throwing the bike down the hill behind Red Butte Garden one too many times after getting stuck in the rocks up there, I had to get new wheels. By the time I moved to Grenoble, the only original parts left were the stem and the handlebar.

I put the bike into the basement and all but forgot about it. My passion is road biking here. I haven't ventured off-road in more than a year.


On Thursday, I discovered that my mailbox was broken open and the key to my basement was gone. A day later I finally got hold of a replacement key. Shining a flashlight into the darkness, the first thing that struck me was the complete lack of sparkling reflections. The Trek was gone.

Someone must have noticed I always keep the basement keys in the mailbox when I go out riding or to work and taken advantage of that. Clever, criminal, fucked-up? Certainly shameless and absolutely unbelievable because it must have been someone from the building - or at least someone tipped off by a neighbor.

Anyway, the good news is that my roadbike was with me when the break-in happened. That would have been a truly heart-breaking loss. But the mountainbike? It had served me faithfully for seven years. I just wish I could have retired it more gracefully.