Archive for August, 2012

Landscape Spotting Part 1 (FRA-JFK)

August 5, 2012

OK – let’s start a ‘geeky’ game. During my flight from Frankfurt to New York on 27 July 2012 I took a bunch of photos from the plane. The Idea is to find out which places they show. Who likes to answer: just use the comment function and put in a link to the Google Maps view of the area (see first comment below). The example is Brookhaven National Lab:

Sample: Brookhaven National Lab

The route was Frankfurt – New York (JFK) following more or less a great circle. My seat was at a right (with respect to the flight direction) window with mainly view to the north. What my also help is the time – now included in the picture caption.

And here comes the gallery – enjoy!


Day 3 – A treasure buried in black sticky stuff

August 3, 2012

29/30 July 2012

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

On Sunday morning I enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Tart Restaurant next to the hotel having a ‘Californian Scrumble’ which I can highly recommend. The waiter also seemed to be very happy about my choice. After check-out and picking up my rental car from valet parking I went to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels which I visited first time in 2010. For attendance at Sunday mass a public parking garage offers 3 hours free parking – what a service for the service. 🙂 This time, after mass, I had a look at the Crypt Mausoleum and St. Vibiana’s Chapel below the Cathedral church. According to the cathedral’s website the mausoleum is the only one worldwide offering to not just a “privileged few” 1275 full casket and 4794 urn spaces for burials.

Grand Park of Downtown Los Angeles

I also made a small walk around the block to have a look at the new Grand Park of Downtown Los Angeles the first part of which was opened just a few days ago. On Sunday the opening was celebrated with live music in the Park.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Located north above of the park is the Los Angeles Music Center with the fancy-looking Walt Disney Concert Hall. The large (72 stops, 109 ranks) concert organ inside (I haven’t seen, unfortunately) looks like an exploded bunch of french fries.

For the afternoon I decided to see some science stuff including a museum at the Miracle Mile of Wilshire Boulevard: the La Brea Tar Pits with the George C. Page Museum located within Hancock Park (just next to the previously announced screening location). On my way there, not far from downtown Wilshire Blvd crosses MacArthur Park – regarding the weather conditions the chances of someone leaving cake out in the rain were very little. 😉

Besides physics, I am very much interested in geology and the aforementioned Lahn Marble of my home region is an outstanding sample of a 380 Million year old fossil reef. The tar pits are natural sources of liquid asphalt which emerges from crude oil of Salt Lake Oil Field seeping up through the 6th Street Fault while the lighter petroleum fractions evaporate and biodegrade.

Methane bubble emerging from sticky asphalt of La Brea Tar Pits

The latter is also responsible for the formation of methane bubbling out of the tar pits. Though the bubbles make the asphalt appear boiling it is in fact cold (and there’s no volcano underneath).

Huge methane bubble at Lake Pit (La Brea Tar Pits)

Huge methane bubbles come out the water-filled Lake Pit. La Brea is one of the richest fossil sites of the late Pleistocene epoch (last glacial period) preserving extinct species of mammals and birds as well as plants. Excavations started at the beginning of the 20th century and are still active up to now.

Inside Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits

Next to the tar pits in Hancock Park is The George C. Page Museum, part of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It includes a rich exhibition of fossils from the site and provides information about fauna and flora of the late Pleistocene and the history of La Brea. The most prominent species are the Columbian mammoth and the Smilodon, a sabre-toothed cat. A unique feature of the Page Museum is the glass-walled Fishbowl Lab where visitors can witness paleontologists working on the fossils. Outside the museum are life-size models of prehistoric animals at the tar pits.

George C. Page Museum

Atrium of George C. Page Museum

I also liked the architecture of this museum which opened in 1977. The exhibition area is half underground surrounded by a square frustum covered with lawn. It is illuminated from inside by a nice atrium square with tropical plants and water features. The atrium is open to the sky with a ‘floating’ steel construction aloft which supports a circumferential bas-relief depicting Pleistocene flora and fauna.

The ‘Jumbo Jet’ 747

At about 3 p.m. it was time to leave La Brea heading to the airport area: return of the rental car, check-in and waiting for boarding (while writing parts of this blog). LAX offers free internet access – something other airports should consider as well! Eventually, at 7 p.m. the airplane was ready for take-off and the 10-hour direct flight to Frankfurt. Boeing 747 is a messy sardine can compared to the A380 but that comparison may be a little unfair. At least, I survived and Lufthansa’s service was similarly good as on Friday. “Chicken or pasta?” “Pasta!” Wine was for free (I had a German Riesling – they know about good wines).

Ac cloud layer with sunset ‘underglow’

I had a last look from my window place over the widespread moloch L.A. Sunset was beautiful with an interesting effect on a medium-low cloud layer. Usually, one can enjoy the colourful illumination of the cloud basis by the setting sun from below. Now, I had a look from above, where the clouds appeared in a bluish grey but with orange glow through some gaps looking like a lava flow.

Highway A3 and ICE trail in the ‘Goldener Grund’ area

Despite of the noise I found some sleep (before I tried to figure out how to with the jet lag – but it worked better than expected). For entertainment, I watched ‘Russendisko’, a nice rather new film comedy after the autobiographic novel by Wladimir Kaminer. In the early afternoon (local time) ‘Good Old Germany’ came into sight and I took some final photos of my home region. The route from L.A. to Frankfurt was not following a great circle but rather the jet stream heading eastwards. Thanks to tailwind (ground speed up to 1000 km/h) we arrived ahead of time:

Wachtturm-Gesellschaft, Selters/Taunus

Limburg Süd ICE station

Deboarding and baggage claim went fast enough that I caught an ICE train back to Limburg one hour earlier. During the 17-minute ride I spotted the German headquarter of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Selters/Taunus.

This was my 2012 three-day coast-to-coast USA adventure. I enjoyed it pretty much and I’m looking forward seeing ‘I Am I’ in a German movie theatre some time and of course I’m curious about the new TBBT episodes of the 6th season starting in September. 🙂

Day 2 – one of the most wonderful in my life

August 2, 2012

Grey morning in at JFK Airport (New York, USA)

The next day started grey with the skyscrapers being just what the German term ‘Wolkenkratzer’ (literally cloudscraper) means. Flying over the US is always fun for me – hoping for not too many clouds. What I like to do may be called ‘landscape spotting’: taking photos of landmarks, landscape features and manmade structures like cities, artificial lakes and irrigation and then try to identify them either by knowledge, guess or with aid of satellite imagery – thanks to Google Maps! 🙂

Wind farm in southwestern Kansas

Over southwestern Kansas I spotted a wind farm (nothing unusual in Germany nowadays) – it seems that renewable energy becomes a growing issue in the USA.

AA 19 landed ahead of time which made me optimistic to be also on time for the screening. My baggage appeared soon at the carousel and the rental car was ready as well. The only remaining obstacle was the little heavy traffic but I even had enough time to check-in at the lovely Farmer’s Daughter Hotel just across the Farmers Market and the CBS TV City. The Harmony Gold Preview House was not far and offered free parking and finally I arrived just after the doors opened at the location where I would be a witness of a dream which came true.

There was already a little crowd and I found Jocelyn (with her lovely 2 1/2 months old daughter Adeline) and Simon busy with receiving all the congratulations. They were happy to see me there coming from so far away. I felt a little nervous (could that be real?) since a physicist may appear as a quite exotic particle among the film business community – but the atmosphere was very friendly. 🙂 It seemed everybody could not wait to see the movie and the new location with a ‘real’ wide-screen theatre was obviously the appropriate location. Jocelyn bid everybody a warm welcome from the stage starting with the Kickstarter backers (mentioning that they even came from Canada, Germany and Australia) without their funding the project would not have been possible. She thanked the cast, crew and everybody who contributed to the film project in some form. But then, the great moment came, the curtain opened and the festive crowd was going to see the first time ‘I Am I’.

In order not to spoil anything, I will just refer to the film’s synopsis from the ‘I Am I‘ webpage: “I AM I is the story of a young woman, Rachael, who meets the father she never knew, Gene, at her mother’s funeral. She discovers that her father is completely delusional and believes her to be her dead mother. After Rachael visits Gene in an assisted living home, she learns that he suffers from a disease called Korsakov’s Syndrome, a form of retrograde amnesia and that her mother had placed him in this facility for treatment a year earlier. He does not remember anything past the age of thirty-three, and believes that he is still a young man. Unable to convince him of who she really is, Rachael decides to go along with her father’s delusions by pretending to be her mother and discovers that under this guise, she and Gene can have “normal” conversations. Before long, Rachael is visiting Gene everyday, finding new ways to bring elements from his past into their present relationship. What began as a search for understanding has become romantic and joyful, but it can’t go on forever. As Rachael pieces together the past and plays out memories for Gene, her need to be seen by her father, for who she truly is, grows strong.

What can I say about the film? It is just wonderful and left me at first almost speechless when I thanked Jocelyn. Truly, one can call it what a hard-to-translate German term describes as a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. The acting, music, light, scenery, etc. … everything fits together to a great artwork. I cannot do more than advertise it and recommend to see it, whenever and wherever you will have a chance to do so. According to the ‘I Am I’ webpage the film was very well-received at US in Progress in Paris (an event connecting American independent filmmakers with the European market held in conjunction with the first annual Champs-Élysées Film Festival) and was awarded a Special Mention by the Jury! 🙂 I really hope that it will become a success in America and as well will make its way to European theatres.

After the screening there was a nice reception with tasty food and drinks (wine & cheese, beer, mexican-style stuff and cakes) with the opportunity to talk about the film or other topics like (difficult for me to avoid) TBBT. Johnny Galecki (Leonard) and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette) from the show were around as well as most from the cast & crew of ‘I Am I’ (e. g. Jason Ritter) and I had the chance to talk a bit to Simon Helberg. Everybody was very friendly and I felt less alien. I had a very nice conversation (ranging from the history of the universe to global warming) with Roger Towne, Jocelyn’s father,  and met some other backers, quite a portion of them seem to be actors. It was like David Saltzberg said: “It’s quite funny when you go to a party (in LA) it seems like everyone works in the (film) industry, except for the physicists.“ This may be going to change. 😉

Farmer’s Daughter Hotel, Los Angeles

After the party I went back to my hotel and got a little tired due to the additional 3-hour jet lag. What to do the next day? Some typical studio tours? Science stuff (ok – I have already been at Griffith Observatory two years ago)? Museums? Have a look at the next blog and see …

Day 1 – Rabbit, white, 6’ 3.5” tall

August 2, 2012

27 July 2012

ICE train arriving in Limburg Süd

The adventure started smoothly, though the night after the nice recital was short. Fortunately my plane was going to depart at 10:20 am such that I (being a night-owl) could use a convenient not-too-early ICE high-speed train to Frankfurt Airport. The train was on time and shortly before it arrived I captured another one which did not stop in Limburg Süd passing the station at full speed of about 300 km/h!

Almost maximum speed (300 km/h)

Morning temperatures were moderate in the lower 20s (°C) but the weather in general was a good preparation for the similarly hot but even more humid New York summertime climate.

Futuristic architecture of ‘The Squaire’

At the airport’s railway station I took a few pictures of the futuristic architecture of ‘The Squaire’ which has been built around the existing glass dome aloft the station.

Airbus A380

It was my first flight with world’s largest passenger airliner – the double-decked Airbus A380 with a capacity of more than 800 passengers. And it was (almost) booked out! To my surprise (and convenience) it is a little more spacious than other aircrafts; in particular the window seats have more room to the side facing the wall. And as usual, I booked a window seat – being lucky to get the last one in the last row on the northern side (which is better to take landscape photos).

Developing early convection over Holland

Ac cas over southern Westphalia

The sky was partly cloudy with a lot of signals of beginning convection expected to develop later on the day – but that was to be left behind. The boundary layer was very hazy – I apologize for the diffuse images.

Old city of Soest (Westphalia, Germany)

Through a cloud window I captured the nice city of Soest which has a completely preserved medieval wall around the nearly circular old city. I remember one of my first school excursions in 6thgrade (1982) when we spent one week in Soest.

Tomato juice

Usually, my first drink on board is tomato juice (don’t ask why – it’s the only case I drink this kind of juice at all). (Invisible) North Sea coast, northern England, Isle of man, Ireland and then …  many hours (boring) Atlantic Ocean. Time to read an interesting article about Germany from a US perspective in the ‘Handelsblatt’. “Chicken or pasta?” – “Chicken!”

TBBT Episode 1×10 ‘The Loobenfeld Decay’

On the on-board entertainment programme a variety of films and TV series episodes. Among the latter ‘The Loobenfeld Decay’ from TBBT – Lufthansa made a good choice! 🙂

Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland (Canada)

RHIC, Brookhaven, Long Island (New York, USA)

Then ‘land in sight’: Newfoundland with occasional streets as first indications of civilisation. St. Lawrence Stream, Boston Area, Long Island (I spotted Brookhaven National Lab with Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) … and on time around 12:30: welcome to the never-sleeping city reaching to the clouds and open 7/24 – or to be more precise: welcome to its Airport John F. Kennedy about 20 km east of Manhattan. The unboarding went faster than I expected from the sheer mass of passengers. But my happiness turned very soon into a proof of patience since we already had to line up in the hallway to the immigration since there, downstairs was not enough space. While waiting so long I noticed an impressive panorama drawing in the arrival hall. Later I learned about it’s amazing creator Stephen Wiltshire. Check out this documentary about the drawing!

New World Trade Center towers (1 and 4) under construction

Three hours later I was finally sitting in a cab giving me the ride to my destination: Gramercy Park Hotel. Traffic was heavy but not as time-consuming as the immigration. Skyline was impressive and I tried to capture the new WTC. The hotel was fine: friendly atmosphere, nice room and helpful assistance when I had technical trouble – first the elevator didn’t want to read my keycard and then I messed up the PIN of the safe. As I love parks and gardens (such as my favourite Schwetzingen Castle Garden – check out this gallery), I enjoyed the privilege of having access to one of the few private parks in New York City.

Hungry squirrel at Gramercy Park

Gramercy Park, NYC

Gramercy Park is a beautiful oasis in the urban desert between 3rd and Park Avenue and pigeons, various birds and squirrels seem to enjoy it, too (and be sure I was not following Tom Lehrer and Georg Kreisler who suggest what fun it is to poison them). With such a tight time schedule enforced by the immigration delay, there was not much time for anything that you could call sight-seeing.

Empire State Building viewed from 5th Avenue

But there was also a mission to fulfil: taking photos of the marble decoration in the lobby of the Empire State Building which is in walking distance. I was overwhelmed – not so much by this giant landmark itself from the outside but rather by the fact, that the tall hallways in the ground floor are almost entirely plated with so-called Lahn Marble from my home region in Germany!

Lahn Marble in the Lobby of Empire State Building

I have never seen such an impressive collection of this familiar stone. What a variety of patterns and colours! I wished I had enough time to make a systematic survey but time was running. Thus, I tried to capture representative samples – which I promised to a highly respected member of the Lahn Marble Association at home in Villmar.

‘Harvey’ at Studio 54 (Roundabout Theater Company)

Rushing back I tested the subway system which I would need later to get to Studio 54 Theater. Everything went fine and I picked up my pre-ordered ticket for a seat in the front row of the balcony. The play was terrific and Jim Parsons as well as Jessica Hecht and Charles Kimbrough were just brilliant. Jim got an extra applause when he appeared first on the scene and I guess there were some TBBT fans in the audience – I noticed a child wearing a ‘Bazinga’ T-shirt 🙂 Also the scenic design placed on three revolving stage platforms was excellent and allowed fast switches between Elwood’s home and the sanatorium without curtain breaks.

Back at the hotel I walked a bit around in the neighbourhood. On 3rd Avenue I found a bagel shop offering a green juice mix called ‘Hulk’ – it tasted great but unfortunately gave me no superpower 😉 Back at the hotel I found an important E-Mail by the screening’s organizer that the location was changed (due to technical difficulties) to the Harmony Gold Preview House on Sunset Boulevard. The address looked promising and reminded me my favourite ‘Art House’ cinema during my doctorate years, the Harmonie in Freiburg.

Go to Day 2

Day 3

Jet-Set 2012 – From Coast to Shining Coast

August 2, 2012

27-30 July 2012

Prologue (or: how I became an Kickstarter backer of ‘I Am I’)

How to begin a blog about this crazy tour de force? Actually, everything started with the Big Bang (13.7 Billion years ago) and so tells us the theme song (by the Barenaked Ladies) of the outstanding comedy series ‘The Big Bang Theory’ (TBBT). It broke into my life about three years ago when – while walking along a corridor at my institute – I noticed colleagues laughing loudly. Curiousity-driven I investigated the source of their amusement and found them watching a comedy series. A comedy series about physicists(!) which I found somehow weird. For sure I knew that physicists are funny but would a broad TV audience share this amusement without being totally confused? But maybe, that’s the point. Another peculiarity of the series is the physics (though more a ‘background’ than essential part of the story). It is oh-so authentic with ‘real’ formulas on whiteboards and even up to date with current discussions in the scientific community – thanks (as I learned) to a scientific advisor, Prof. David Saltzberg, a physicist at UCLA.  This first encounter with TBBT was brief. I watched no further episodes and just mentioned the series to friends as something remarkably funny. But a few weeks later, I celebrated my 40th birthday and received the first season on DVD as a gift from one of these friends. I got infected. I was continuously watching TBBT during my vacations 2009/2010 (it has advantages to be born ‘between the years’). And I could not stop laughing when I heard in episode 1 x 11 Sheldon’s story about getting sick abroad at a ‘Heidelberg Institute’ due the bad local cuisine. How did the writers know about our former canteen??? I had to find out and contacted David Saltzberg (whose research is close to the scope of our institute). This finally led to an interview with him for the Max Planck Journal during a travel to Kansas and California in May 2010.

That’s – in brief – the TBBT story. But what about ‘I Am I’? It was one year later, again between the years on my birthday 28 Dec 2010, when I came across that Jocelyn Towne (spouse of Simon Helberg who plays Howard Wolowitz on TBBT) was going to produce a film titled ‘I Am I’ and that she started a fundraising campaign via Kickstarter. Looking at the evolution of the backing procedure, I stated that they would need a ‘Bragg peak’ in order to reach the goal: to collect at least 100,000 $ until 8 Jaunuary 2011. I felt motivated to support this production and my motivation was twofold: first and more general, I liked the way how independent productions can become real via such kind of fundraising. Second and more peculiar, I was somehow moved by the story’s aspect about someone who loses his memory since my mother is suffering from dementia. So, I donated some amount and was going to become an associate producer with an invitation to the cast & crew screening.

The ‘I Am I’ Kickstarter ‘Bragg Peak’

The fundraising was finally successful but it was very exciting up to the last day and the donations indeed behaved like a Bragg peak (as I predicted) which added some geeky fun (at least for me). In summer 2011 the shooting was finished and post-production started. Jocelyn and her team held the backers informed via newsletters which were always a pleasure to read. The film btw. was not the only offspring – in May 2012 Jocelyn and Simon could welcome their daughter Adeline.

A happy ‘I Am I’ Kickstarter backer

I never really took into account being able to attend the cast & crew screening on 28 July but when I received the invitation a couple of weeks ago I thought: “It would be a crazy jet-set tour over a weekend – but why not?” To add even more fun to this travel I decided to stop in New York on Friday 27 July in order to see Jim Parsons (the actor portraying Sheldon on TBBT) as Elwood P. Dowd in ‘Harvey’ on Broadway (Roundabout Theater Company) – one of my favourite comedies. [Footnote: I like the live performances at theatres since my high school days in Bochum when our German teacher got us cheap tickets for the Schauspielhaus on a regular basis. I remember well the plays by Brecht, v. Kleist, Molière, Schiller and others.]

Everything got squeezed between a song recital at MPIK given by students of my singing teacher (where I premiered with Brahms and Reger songs) and my duties in the following week – but finally it turned out to fit into the tight schedule as the following blogs will report (structured like a well-konwn Wagner opera): Continue with Day 1 – Rabbit, white, 6’ 3.5” tall

Day 2

Day 3

My Schwetzingen

August 1, 2012

Impressions from Schwetzingen Castle Garden – one of my favourite places (and jogging area).