Vic's View on the World

Friday, February 22, 2008


Mid-December, I had a phone interview with someone from the CASPER group at Baylor university, in Waco, Texas, about a post-doctorate research position in dusty plasma physics. It lasted fon an hour. It apparently went really well, because a week later, I was offered the position. So, starting April 1st, I'll be working in Waco. Yes, that's the place where the Davidians burned down the ranch they were being sieged in, but Waco rather wants to be remembered as one of the frontier cities in Texas, and as the place where Dr. Pepper was invented, and where one of the top universities is. (Or will be, Baylor aims to be in the top-50 in 2012.)

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the place, to meet people, and look for an apartment. I stayed in a lovely bed & breakfast, run by two wonderful older people. Every morning there was an excellent breakfast, which was also a very nice time to meet some people, who came from all over the US to have job-interviews, play in piano competitions, or to compete in Lacrosse.

At the airport I rented a compact car, which for my standards was huge! The lady at the desk actually warned me that the car might be small, and that I might want to upgrade. I told her it was just me and my carry-on, so I'd probably be just fine. Good thing I did, because the car was big enough! So just put in some CD's a drive through Dallas. It was dark when I crossed down-town on the I-35. Very impressive sight, with all the high-towers with lights on them.

During 5 days or so, I must have seen at least 7 apartments. At some point I got pretty fed up with it. On the las day, I saw one, and decided that it was going to be the one. Just 10 minutes from campus, right around the corner of the B & B, so I knew the neighbourhood is quiet.

It has a pretty big kitchen, with dish-washer, microwave, waste-disposal, a big fridege, and a counter, so we can put in some bar-stools. The apartment also comes with a washer and dryer, so no shared laundry, which I really hate. In the kitchen there is plastic on the floor, in the rooms carpet.

The apartment has two floors. Downstairs is the kitchen, living/dining, washer/dryer and a tiny patio, which also holds the AC unit and one "restroom". Upstairs are two bedrooms/2 bathrooms. So, we'll probably use one of the bedrooms as an office/workplace, with a portable bed, so that when friends come over, they can stay there. All-in-all, it's about 1050 square feet, or something like 100 square meters. A lot bigger than we are living now, anyway. And starting June, it will include Digital TV and Wireless internet.
I also had a look around Waco, and went to Austin, to visit the Texas Museum, but this is running too long already. Maybe later.

Cheers. V.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My PhD defense

Hi All,

trying to catch up, so that my blog looks as if it has anything to do with my life. Last December I graduated after four years of research and obtained my PhD in physics. It was a great day. I was a bit nervous at first, of course. I arrived with my two "paranimfen", two good friends who were there for moral support. We arrived 45 minutes early and were guided to a waiting room by the pedel, the lady who makes sure the defense starts at the right time and stops exactly after 45 minutes. She carries a big stick with bells, and at the end of the defense knocks the stick on the floor and shouts "hora est", at which time the defense stops, in my case, right in the middle of an answer.
Anyway, we were supposed to wait in that room, which is right above the entrance of the building, so that we could see all my friends and relatives arriving. Quite funny.

The defense went very well. This photo shows me right after the defense, when the committee has left and is deciding about my degree. On the left is my fiancee, in the middle me, on the right my two paranimfen. In the background you can see that the wall is covered with paintings showing serious old men. The room is called the senaatszaal, the senate room, since the paintings all depict members of the board of the university.

After the defense is the traditional gathering, where people had the opportunity to congratulate me and have a cup of coffee, since my defense was at 10.30 a.m. This picture shows me with Professor Edward Thomas, Jr. from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, which is in the U.S. During my research I spend 3 months there, and he was willing to sit in my defense committee. I was very glad he was there.

I was also very glad when I got home and had some time to sit and have a drink. During the defense and the reception I had to stand, so at home I could finally sit again. The official document I got from my University is quite big. What's even more amazing that it is in Latin. I actually had to order an English translation for it, for any official business I might need it for later.

In the evening I went out to diner with my family. We had a great diner and a lot of fun and nice conversation. Inside the restaurant they had fake white Christmas trees. I don't care much about Christmas, but this looked funny, especially with all the lights that were in the trees.

After diner we went to Cafe 't Weeshuis, which is near the Dom in Utrecht. I had arranged a party there, and almost all my friends and colleagues showed up. Really great. I also had something to eat there after my Master's, if I remember correctly. It is a real nice place, and I think the photo shows the atmosphere really well.

All in all, it was a great day, and a fine show! I want to thank everybody who was there, but also everybody who mailed me a card. Thank you all!

Dr. V.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Utrecht-Maastricht-Arnhem by bike

Last summer I again crossed a large distance with my girlfriend by bike. Starting out from Utrecht, we went south through Nieuwegein and crossed the Lek near Vianen. Continuing south, we found ourselves quickly in the "Land van Maas en Waal", after using the small pont near Brakel, which takes a bike across for 60 cents.

Continuing on just a little bit further, we stopped at a beautiful little camping site near Nederhemert, a tiny town which sits on a small peninsula, sandwitched between two little ferries both going across a side-track of the Maas. We biked a total of 55 kilometers on the first day! Just a short stroll from the camping there is an old castle, with a small rough woodlands around it. It is there that I asked my girlfriend to marry me, after almost 7 years of being madly in love, and without hesitation she replied "yes", after some initial shock. That made me the happiest man on Earth, of course.

The next day we worked our way through 70 kilometers of hot weather, coming across the beatiful "Loonse and Drunense Hei" to find ourselves a place to put up our tent in Mierlo.

After getting ourselves dinner, cold beers and red wine, we were welcomed back with a breathtaking sunset, which wrestled with the night for more than an hour. We only returned to our tent when she was finally defeated.

The next day we took it a bit slow and went to Ittervoort, both very close to the Belgian border,and to the famous white town of "Thorn". We crossed about 40 km that day. We visited Thorn, which is a nice and quiet town, where a lot of the houses were painted white, because during the French occupation there was a tax on windows with glass. So, a lot of the windows were removed, resulting in very ugly houses. To make the houses nicer to look at, they were all painted brightly white. At least, this is the historical reason I've heard of.

The next day brought us to Maastricht after 50 kilometers of cycling along side the Maas canal. Maastricht is the oldest town in the Netherlands, in fact, it was founded by the Romans. They called it "Mesotraiectum", or passable spot in the Maas river. We stayed 2 nights and did a walking tour through town, which showed us the old Roman parts, as well as the 12th century old city walls.

A famous square in Maastricht is the "Vrijthof", which has the red St. Janstoren, and the St. Servaas basiliek. The tower was not always red, it was also reported white, and yellow in the past.

After maastricht we followed the canal north again, with a killer climb, which I think was at "Berg aan de maas", which in Dutch means "Mountain at the Maas", we ended up just south of Roermond, at a very large camping site, which was mainly occupied by travelers with big yaghts and boats. This was again about 50 kilometers of cycling.

The next day my rear tire decided it was enough. Luckily enough, the bike shop at the railstation in Roermond was opened. Deciding to take the most expensive tire (50 euro's in total or so), we continued our way 2 hours later. We continued north for 62 kilometers to end up in a campsite in Well, where they just finished a party, so there was a lot of bad music, the smell of old beer, and drunks. Not too bad in the end. We went into town and had a drink ourselves in one of the cafe's there. I had my first "ice-Heineken" ever, which they serve from those ice-covered taps. Heineken, and just very cold. Nice, because it was summer, but beyond that, not worth the trouble.

The next day brought us through the hills south of Nijmegen. They have a hiking race each year for students there, called the "zevenheuvelenloop", or the cun across seven hills. Quite a couple of steep climbs, but moving north towards Arnhem was a spectacular downhill. I wouldn't recommend biking it from north to south. In Arnhem we crossed the Nederrijn, the final end of the Rhine river.

This stretch is quite famous for the battle during the 2nd world war, where operation Market Garden failed to liberate Arnhem and the Netherlands north of the Rhine river. Along the side of the river there are still memorials and some old canons.

Driving through the center of Arnhem, we continued north, and uphill again, to a very nice campingsite in the woods, in a little town called Schaarsbergen. This part of the trip was about 75 kilometers, with a lot of hills, so we were wasted. A nice meal, some drinks and another sunset finished off the day quite nicely.

We spend a full day at Maastricht, doing a tour through the city (by foot again) and visiting the water museum, which is quite nice. It shows a lot of information about water, and the different waterways in the Netherlands. It was fun to follow the route we bike by following the different canals and rivers we saw.

The final day, it rained all of a sudden. When we were waiting for more than an our, inside a pancake restaurant, wet to the bone, we decided to go to Ede and take the train from there back to Utrecht. So, we only biked 18 kilometers the last day.

We look back at 420 great kilometers! To anyone who took the time reading this, I really recommend taking a look at the Netherlands from a bike. Especially between May and September, when you are lucky enough to hit nice weather, which usually than stays for 1 or 2 weeks.

I will try to keep this blog more updated, slowly gaining in time. The next blog will be about my PhD defense, which I succesfully finished the 11th of December!



Friday, July 06, 2007

Talk'n poster

SO, just a pic of me in action. The talk went quite well, even though the bald Russian guy gave me a hard time. The poster presentation also went quite well. In fact, Professor Winter from Bochum even asked if I would accept an invitation to come over to Bochum to discuss it a bit more. Of course I did, it will be after my vacation. Now, the conference is over for me. Yesterday was the conference dinner, which consisted of a lot of meat and a lot of beer, so I'm keeping low today. Tomorrow I'll be playing the tourist and of course buying some worthless crap to take home.



Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Warsaw weirdness

So, this is Warsaw... Big shiny buildings, cracked dirty roads, beggars, drunks, men in suit, beautiful women with succesful jobs. I'm at the EPS conference on plasma physics, which is held at the palaski kultura y nauki, or something close to that. It translates to the palace of culture and arts and was a gift to the city of Warsaw from Stalin. This is clear from the start, since it is built in Russian style; large, stone, high, wide and just drop-dead ugly. At least, on the outside. The inside is quite nice, with lots or marble and polished wood. Here are a few pictures, showing the outside (by night), the main lecture hall, which normally acts as a big-ass theatre (I'm not having my talk here, I'll upload some photo's of that lecture room later), and one of the rooms where the poster presentations are held (I'm also presenting a poster here).

Today is the day of the excursions, which I'm not attending, since they are walking excursions of 4 hours or so, and it's raining. I'm standing in an empty hall, where people are cleaning up the floors, but at least there is wireless signal.
Our hotel is nice, we're staying in the Rialto, which is in the "excellent" section of the tourist guides. Here are some pictures of it.

It is quite luxarious, with a huge shower head, the only problem is that the plumbing can not keep up, so I have to divide my showertime into different sections.
Here is a picture of the bathroom, it has gigantic mirrors, which allow the innocent user to view himself from all directions (which is not necessarily a good thing of course!)

The people in the hotel are very nice though, and they in general keep a high standard of service.
I've been doing a little bit of sight-seeing with Gerard, my colleague. There is a small section called old town "miasto". Here is where they have redecorated a few streets, and also where the old royal palace is. I hope to take a better look coming Saturday, which is my day off. Here are some snapshots anyway.

This is Gerard in front of a monument remembering the uprising of the Warsawians against the Germans in 1944. A little bit too early I guess, but they remember their heroes and soldiers a lot. There is even a monument of the unknown soldier, which is still guarded by 2 soldiers 24/7.

These are some of the "typical" houses on the better preserved squares. Like many places in Eastern Europe (like Prague) they are brightly colored. Here however, they only have painted decorations, whereas in other parts of Europe there are usually sculptured decorations on the faces of the houses.

This is it for now. I end with some news:

  1. my thesis has been send to the reading committee last week, so I'm getting there...

  2. my 4th paper has been accepted for publication

  3. my talk and poster will be tomorrow, so, tonight I need a little bit of preparation.

Take care, and thanks for reading.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Zeeland and Antwerp

Hello Again,

between preparing papers, preparing classes and writing a thesis, I found some time to go diving. I went 4 days to Zeeland, the Dutch Divers paradise. My buddy and me stayed in a very comfortable "camper". It's not really a camper, since it is stationary, but I do not quite know the English term for it. Anyway, it was very nice, actually meant for 4+ persons, so we both had our own room to sleep in, a kitchen, a dining table and a living space with a television, so we were also able to watch MTV and the Roland Garros tennis games.

I rented a car, so we were totally in control of our time and diving schedule. We visited most of the "Grevelingen" lake, a place in Zeeland without tide, but with salty water. It literally crawls with life, amazing every time I see it up close again. In total we made 6 dives, including one night-dive near "Dreischor". The water was very clear and when we covered our lights, the water nicely flashed up when we moved our hands, due to very small animals which glow up when moved suddenly. Below are some of the photo's we shot with a cheap throw-away underwater camera. Not too bad even. I'm now actually thinking about getting a better underwater camera and doing an underwater photo- and film specialty.

The left shows me at a depth of about 4 meters or so. Even though the water colors everything a bit green, we were able to see details up to about 5 to 6 meters away or so. The right shows the old "dijk" wall which is now underwater at about 3.5 meters of depth at Den Osse Kerkweg. It is covered with different kinds of algae and sponges. Nowadays there is even some real coral in the Grevelingen, which in Dutch is called "dodemansduim", or "dead mans thumb". According to the camping place keeper it can be found at Den Osse Kerkweg at a depth of about 15 meters. Despite us looking for it, we were not able to positively identify any of it, which might partly be due to the fact that the distance we could clearly see was only about 2 meters and it is considerably darker at that depth (we really needed our diving torches there).

These photo's show my buddy being happy underwater and a jellyfish, which are also pretty common there. They can be quite beautiful, since they often have ribs which refract the light, much like a prism. These living prisms move though, which means they are living light-shows. By the way, most jellyfish are completely harmless, despite the fact that most people are scared of them. Most jellyfish which are poisonous have bright colors, often deep blue, green and purple.

Next time we will be diving in Zeeland I think we will be going with some people who are familiar with diving in the Oosterschelde, which means calculating the different tides and rightly picking the time when to dive at a certain place.

After my short holiday in Zeeland I went to Antwerp, together with my girlfriend. Not only to have a look at this city, but also to have a talk with a professor I met at a conference and to get acquainted with her group and with the work she and her group are doing. I also presented some of my work, which went very well. Anyway, quite an interesting place and nice work, so another option for the future to ponder about.

As far as Antwerp goes, that is quite a nice city. We stayed at a nice old hotel (Nouveau Art/Jugendstill period around 1900). This photo shows one of the contemporary buildings, which has a balcony in the shape of the bow of a small boat.

Of course, we also visited the old town and had a one and a half hour tour through the cathedral (which, as I learned was actually degraded to a church by the pope in the past) which houses 4 famous Rubens paintings, and visited the "grote markt", the big town square, which houses some very pompous buildings. I regard these as the bling bling of the 17th century.

We also visited the museum for the contemporary arts (Muhka), which had some nice exhibitions on Marroccan culture and a comparison between the old art by Rubens and contemporary art. We also went to a fun fair and enjoyed the big wheel, but also bluffed each other into the most extreme ride they had (the Eclipse) which actually swirled us around at 4.5 g forces (!!) and at 110 km per hour (!!!) Terrible and fun at the same time, as most of the best things in live are, I guess.

Tomorrow I'm giving a course on dusty plasma physics at the University of Utrecht, so that is also quite exciting.

Until we blog again!


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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"So, what ARE you doing?"

I get a lot of people asking me what it is I'm doing again. So I start to explain about plasma, and microchip industry, solar cell fabrication, fusion energy and planet formation, and how dust plays this magic role in all this. Usually, that was all people needed (and usually all people could digest), but as of late people interrupt me after about 10 seconds and go like "No, I mean, what do you DO again?" I somehow get the impression people have the feeling I'm actually doing nothing at all and get paid for it.

So for those of you, here is a short overview:

First of all, I do PHYSICS, which means you get a bunch of tough questions, translate them into this quasi-universal language called MATHEMATICS and typically end up with something like this. By the way, the paper in the upper right corner is the contract I originally signed, stating all the research questions I am supposed to answer.

For the 10 % of people who did not take a run for the nearest exit, here goes... So after we got this MATHEMATICAL picture, we grab some books, because we don't understand ZIP of what we are actually working with. So I study a lot of literature, such as articles and theory like this. And YES!, this actually helps a lot in order to get a good idea of the problem I'm working on.

So, when we got some mathematical idea, we can get some paper and pencil predictions, but of course, the COMPUTER can do a much better job. Thank God a lot of people have been working on computational frameworks which I can then expand to answer my specific questions. I work a lot in FORTRAN, one of the oldest computational languages around, but in a way very straightforward, even though it shows amazingly little flexibility. Somehow this used to be a good representation of my state of mind, I guess that is why it worked pretty well.

Now, after many and many hours debugging, running on supercomputers, like SARA in Amsterdam, restarting failed runs, using different parameters, going back to programming to add a bit of stuff, we end up with lines and graphs and numbers and plots, which tell us the story about if, how and why something happens, or does not happen, which requires going back to physics and mathematics again, and usually, some sort of intuition I developed during the years.

The results then hopefully add up to a complete story. I present this in our group, in a short seminar in our laboratory and if it's good, at international conferences. This year I'm going to a big European conference, the 34rd European Physical Society meeting on plasma physics, in Warshaw and I have both an oral presentation as well as a poster, so that is quite nice.

Finally, such a story results in feedback from the scientific community, which results in me doing more runs, or better understanding part of the physics or mathematics, which allows me to adjust the story, up to the point where it is good enough to be submitted to a scientific journal. Some of my colleagues will then write a report on my article and give their opinion to the editorial board of the journal. These reports we usually get, but the referees remain anonymous.

When enough material has been collected (or actually when the contract of the PhD student ends) a thesis has to be written, which is then defended before a jury of Professors at a university. After a succesful defense I will then be given the title of Doctor, which means that my friends will have to say "sir" and "You" with a capital "Y".

I hope you have a good picture of what I actually "DO".