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Letters from Lausanne

Changing Service - no more posts here
After seeing what nice layout options Blogger has, I decided to move my blog there.

This means there will be no more postings here, starting with tomorrow you will find the "Letters from Lausanne" here: http://borislegradic.blogspot.com/

See you there,
Posted by Boris Legradic at 14:42
Tea II
Inspired by my calculation of the average cost of a cup of tea, I went to the nice little tea shop théNtee (don't ask me about the N, nobody seems to want to talk about it) on the Ruelle Grand Pont, which has a very nice and helpful Chinese lady inside. The tea selection is not too big, but they do have Phoenix Pearl Jasmine tea, as well as Lung Ching green tea. If you know a bit about tea, then you know that I splurged a bit. I left the shop 46 CHF lighter, happy owner of 200g of Camellia sinensis. Ahhh, after three weeks of drinking infused grass clippings, a nice cup of tea will make your day.

Plus I learned something new: Apparently the little cloth-tea bags are not ideal for making green tea, because the pores are too small. You should use those metal sieve-thingies, or, even better, nothing at all. I bought one of those cloth-bags after all, because it will fit in my Thermos at the EPFL, where I can't just throw the tea in loose, because it might steep for hours.
Posted by Boris Legradic at 8:24
The Chinese Adopt Private Property
Civilization Headline

"The Chinese adopt private property"

Tell me that this headline is not straight out of Sid Meier's Civilization! I am sure that the real reason the People's Party moved to protect private property was something like this:

Beijing, Office of the President of the People's Republic of China. A massive, modern executive desk dominates the room, It is empty except for a small Japanese sub-notebook, and an intercom. Behind the desk, a big, comfortable looking office chair. Behind the chair a framed portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong. A door opens to the left. Hu Jintao enters, with his back to the room, shouting.

Hu: I do not care! Dissidents, Schmissidents. Just shoot them or whatever! I am not to be disturbed!

Slams the door.

Hu: Fucking amateurs. Now, back to the capitalist swine. Death to all Americans!

Sits down at the laptop. The starting melody of Civilization I plays.

Hu: Ha, a few more turns, then I will have Gunpowder, and my Musketeers shall crush your puny Civilization!

Laptop: The Americans adopt the republic.

Hu: Big fat help that will be. I got Communism since turn 15. Hmmm, how to raise more money, I need a bit for my war chest.

Laptop: The Chinese adopt private property.

Hu: That helped. Look at the gold rushing in. Private property always fills my coffers, he he... ... ... Wait a moment.

Presses a button on the intercom. A buzzing sound is heard

Ming: Yes, President?

Hu: Ming, do we have private property in the People's Republic?

Ming (shocked): But of course not, Sir! Chairman Mao abolished it back in '53!

Hu: Well yes, yes. Times change, you know. I am sure he meant it as a temporary measure or something. We shall reinstitute it forthwith. Hop to it, Ming!

Turns back to his laptop

Hu: And now, Americans...
Posted by Boris Legradic at 9:11
I have regressed into tea-drinking once more. Probably because I am in Switzerland, although that doesn't make any sense. But then again, neither does the Chewbacca defense.

Currently I am drinking "Tea Time"TM green tea. That's the only green tea I could find in the local supermarket, and it tastes almost exactly like the magic potions you used to brew up as a kid, i.e. wet grass. Sometimes, when I get frisky, I drink some Earl Gray, but most of the time I limit my caffeine intake to three or four cups of coffee in the morning, and one or two in the afternoon. (I know, I know, green tea also contains caffeine, but it has only a sixth of an equivalent amount of coffee) The rest of the day I swill cup after cup of soaked grass clippings.

But not any longer, because I squirreled the location of a tea-shop of some repute out of Alan, our local Englishman. Soon I will go there and buy loads of expensive tea (Which isn't as expensive as you would think - if you pay 20 Euro (Yes, I still think in Euro, shame on me!) for 150g, then that is about a hundred tea bags. Tea of this quality can be brewed up at least four times (indeed, Chinese snob-tea-drinkers throw away the first infusion), so you have about a hundred liters of beverage, or 20 cents per liter. You'd be hard-pressed to find bottled water that cheap!

Come to think of it, I will probably splurge and buy some really good jasmine tea...
Posted by Boris Legradic at 8:16
Vo Vietnam
I was in my first Vo-Vietnam lesson the other day...

Hold on. Why, the gentle reader may ask himself, does he always write 'the other day', and never yesterday, on Monday, etc.? The answer to that is that I am tricky, lazy and an inconsistent writer. My stated goal for this blog is to post once per day, every day. However, I am often too lazy to write something in the morning (or in the evening), either because I have not yet had my 4th cup of coffee, or my 3rd cup of tea (first coffee, then tea), or because the day was too strenuous, or too boring, or... And if I do sit down to write I cannot think of anything that would hold anybodies interest any amount of time anyway.

So what I do is if and when the muse strikes me, I tap out four or five blarticles, and save them in Blog/unused. And to insidiously hide this truth from you, I say, 'the other day' and not 16th of march, so that when you read this blarticle you will not immediately think "old news" and flee. This strategy is of course rendered ad absurdum, 'cause I have spilled the beans, but sic transit gloria mundi. (You have to imagine the barefooted monk - if you want, you can also burn a piece of flax for extra credit.)

To return to the other day, I was in my first Vo-Vietnam lesson from 1215h to 1345h. When I first saw that you could learn Vo-Vietnam in Lausanne, I was tickled pink over it. I am somewhat interested in Martial Arts, and did some Tae Kwon Do a couple of years back, some Judo even farther back, and some indifferent Hapkido and a smattering of Kung Fu in between then and now. And I had never even heard of Vo-Vietnam. So I went there (marvelous sport system here at the EPFL, you pay 50 CHF -gratuit pour les etudiants - and then you can visit as many courses as you want and have time for) and had a look. And the moves are really, really different from anything I have done so far. Also, I am horribly out of shape, fat, lazy, unsupple as a stick (a really old, rotten one), and to add insult to injury I seem to have lost what little coordinated I had. But it is a really awesome course, and I will be there twice a week, and I just might inscribe at the school proper, to go one evening per week as well.

So what is Vo Vietnam? Well, actually the name of the school, and of the style, is Ecole Son Long Quyen Thuat, with a couple of scratch marks and dots over the vowels, which I cannot render here. But because of PR it is called Vo-Vietnam, which means 'Jumping Grasshoppers of Korea'.

Kidding, kidding. Vo-Vietnam means the Art of War of Vietnam, and at higher levels there's also sticks, lances, swords and stuff. There is also an appropriately old founder (94 I believe) and a logo with a dragon, everything the prospective martial arts student needs.
Posted by Boris Legradic at 9:08
For all my image-displaying needs I use Irfanview. This program is, IMHO, nothing short of amazing. Small and lightweight (~1MB), ultra fast to load, thumbnail option, slide show etc. You can also do your basic cropping, rotating and adjust colour. It auto-rotates your photos based on the EXIF-data. As of version 3.99 it also has the nice "Auto-adjust colors" function, which does such a good job at judging the white-balance that it would have burned on the stake a couple of centuries before. It wouldn't surprise me if there was some hidden option to make coffee...

No, I do not get any money for advertising this. Really, I don't.

Of course, sometimes your basic global adjustments are not enough, and that's where you see the limits of Irfanview: No layers, hell, only rectangular masks! But I generally don't bother with photos that need this much adjustment - that just means that I fucked up when shooting. If I do have to 'save' a shot then I use the GIMP , because it's powerful and infinitely cheaper the Photoshop and its cohorts.
Posted by Boris Legradic at 11:44
Tai Chi Chuan
The other day I had my first Tai Chi class.

I first came in contact with Tai Chi a couple of years back, when it turned out that one of the students in my Tae Kwon Do class had studied under Grandmaster Li Deyin, the trainer of the chinese national team. He offered to teach us, and some accepted, but silly me decided that it was too boring.

I have since come to regret that decision immensely, because not only have I come to appreciate the flowing movements of Tai Chi, most of them are also extremly effective self defence techniques, relying on minimal movements and shifting your center of mass instead of punches and kicks.

Anyway, now I will get up at 6 o'clock each Tuesday (and how's that for commitment?) and go and learn from master Chaibi. Who's not from Asia, but satisfies the stereotype of a martial arts master by being old and spry.
Posted by Boris Legradic at 8:12
Gambrinus is a very important beer for technical students in Vienna, especially for those who study physics. It's also important for bums, but that is not the point of this - article? essay? blog-entry? Probably the latter, but 'blog-entry' is awfully unwieldy. Maybe there is some expression for this I have missed. If not, I would propose 'blarticle', which strikes me as particularly onomatopoeic. Furthermore, a quick Google Search shows only 1170 results - which means I am only the 734th person to think of this. So, to return from this little tangent, this blarticle is not about bums and their choice of beverage, but rather of students and theirs, and we shall disregard any surprising or unsurprising congruencies.

When encountering Gambrinus for the first time, maybe in the hand of a bum student in the subway station, or maybe on the shelves of one of the supermarkets in Vienna, the erudite beer drinker will immediately recollect Gambrinus , inofficial patron saint of beer. First mentioned by a German poet in the 16th century, he supposedly learned the art of beer brewing from Isis. Now Isis was pretty hot by all accounts, Nephtys (her sister) tried after all to disguise herself as Isis to seduce Set (although why anyone would try to seduce old snake-face remains a mystery to me). This did not work, but Osiris (Isis husband) promptly took her to bed, which is how Anubis was conceived. Isis then had to adopt Anubis, because Nephtys feared the wrath of Set, who, although derelict in his marital duties, was her husband from the beginning.

We can see why Isis knew how to brew beer, and she was nice enough to share that secret with Gambrinus. He, in turn, sorely needed a couple of pints, since being a legendary king of Flanders gives you a powerful thirst, which is compounded by the well-known fact that Flanders is powerfully dull.

Gambrinus is only sold in cans, which means there is no smashed glass at the end of the night, another plus. Also, it is the cheapest beer you can still drink without shuddering in distaste. And, as any student of technical physics in Vienna will be quick to point out, it has the important property of tasting the same, whether it is cold or luke-warm. This athermal behavior has been the subject of many a discussion at the students association of technical physics. The depreciatory (Another tangent: I had the hell of a time deciding whether to use depreciate or deprecate - indeed, before writing this blarticle I thought them the same word and spelled 'deprecrate'. Goes to show that you are never as smart as you think.) answer that the taste just cannot get any worse is, of course, beneath notice. Proponents of this asinity are invited to try and drink warm 'Schwechater' or 'Skol' - if they dare.

The Gambrinus can has had a couple of different incarnations: Originally sold in yellow cans, it had a brief intermezzo in white-green, and presents itself now with characteristic silver-green stripes.

I do not drink it anymore if I don't have to.

To come to the point of this blarticle (yes, there is one): Imagine my delight when during a recent visit to Sopron I found the house depicted below. It is the old town hall of Sopron, constructed in the 13th century. Clearly this is then the very first mention of Gambrinus, and it shows that the Hungarians where levelheaded enough, despite their funny language (or maybe because of it?), to brew beer in the town hall.

Posted by Boris Legradic at 8:19
Scatological insight

Just last week it happened again. A problem I had been worrying at for hours like some demented, half-starved and feral dog was solved by a sudden flash of insight - while I was taking a crap. Really, some of my best ideas came to me when sitting on the loo. I don't know what it is with toilets and me, but somehow loosening bowel-movements seem to inspire spurts of brilliance - or at least something that can be mistaken for brilliance in a blizzard. In the dark. If you don't look too closely.

I blame it on the scatological fixation I don't have, which results in my thoughts being able to free themselves from earthly constraints, since they are not occupied with phant'sying about the ongoing secretional operation. Or else I am brilliant all the time, and only think my brilliance somehow correlated with the act of excreting, because that tends to stick (ha!) in mind.

Anyhow, I am sure we would think of Archimedes differently if he had shouted his heureka while not only running naked through the streets of Athens, but also...

That is probably what happened really, come to think about it, and Archimedes only later managed to convince everybody that he actually was taking a bath and had not hopped out of his toga to take a dump.

"Seriously guys, I was bathing!"

Sure, Archimedes.
Posted by Boris Legradic at 14:41
Hungarian is funny
Yesterday I was browsing through some photos I took when I was in Sopron, Hungary. There I found the little gem below. I am sorry, Hungarians, but your language is funny. Not as funny as finnish maybe, but still funny. But that's okay, better to have ones language thought of as funny than as ugly (I am looking at you, Willy Rushton!), as German often is. Or Czech. Which is not to say that I dislike the Czech or their language (I even tried to learn Czech once, but then the girl wasn't as interested as I), but try to say 'Put your finger through your neck' in Czech.

Strc prst skrz krk.

Posted by Boris Legradic at 8:57
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