January 30, 2007

Dilemma at North Gate

I commute by train from Lund Sweden to Noerreport Station in Copenhagen. In the old days Noerreport or North Gate was one of the passages through the city wall surrounding Copenhagen proper-- there are also stations at East Gate and West Gate. This is one of the busiest platforms in Denmark and it has the worst air; here's a picture of an air pollution measurement station run by some guys I know at Force Technology. Most of the air pollution comes from the exhaust of WWII-era diesel trains that run through every few minutes, in addition to airborne microparticles generated by their brakes. A typical visit to the platform is brightened by one or more of its live-in guests and water dripping through the roof.

Dilemma of the day: get home in time to take F to scouts. I get to the station, park and lock my bike, and take the stairs underground. A TV bolted to the ceiling says that my train is 20 minutes late and that none of the doors on the rear section of the train are working. This is good news because this train was supposed to have arrived 18 minutes ago, giving me two minutes to stroll to the other end of the platform where the doors will be working. When I arrive the voice of a young woman comes through the loudspeaker, barely audible, almost beyond understanding even to those who grew up speaking Danish. She says that this train, since it is so late, will only be going as far as the Central Station, where commuters to Sweden should change to another train. In addition, the next train to Sweden has reached East Gate and will be arriving at North Gate in 5 minutes.

The very first rule of commuting is that a train on the platform is worth much more than the promise of a train. There are more than a few things that cause trains at East Gate not to reach North Gate via the single track connecting the stations. For example it is widely acknowledged that there is a black hole that eats trains a few hundred meters east of the North Gate platform. I have taken the loudspeaker at its word before and while I lived to tell the story I vowed never to do so again. On the other hand if you get on the train at the Central Station with the rest of the herd there's no guarantee you'll get a seat, but if you get on at the station before that, that would be North Gate, you can take your pick.

Today I let the first train slip through my fingers and took a chance on the second train. This time it arrived and here I sit with a choice seat: nice view out the window, leg space and a little table to hold up my computer, thinking of those souls who took the first train to the Central Station and had to switch to this train where they now stand in the aisle, swaying, reading over my shoulder as I type.

January 28, 2007

The Photochemical Reactor

I have been working on designing and building this photochemical reactor for over a year now. It is finally starting to come together. The idea is to study the chemistry occuring in the troposphere and stratosphere, for example how greenhouse gases break down, how pollution breaks down and how aerosol particles form. Ultraviolet lamps around the outside of the cell (UV-A, UV-C and sun lamps) will break apart molecules generating radicals which will react with different compounds we introduce into the cell. I aligned the multipass mirrors for the first time last Friday and was able to create a path length of 208 m in the 2 m cell, above spec, very good. The temperature control works well (-35 C to +50 C), as do the gas-handling and vacuum systems. The next step is to attach the spectrometer.


The backgrounds of these pictures show the kind of winter we are having-- sloppy and wet. The foreground shows my commuting-to-work bike, a MBK 'Smog Buster'. It has 4 speeds, sealed hub, hand and coaster brakes, puncture free tires, package rack. The seat started to split recently so I plugged the cracks with silicone and that kept the water out just fine. But then one day the seat cushion fell off of the bike. I glued it back on and tied it in place just to be sure (second shot). That solution too worked well for a time but then the rope started to chafe and the front of the seat tore allowing it to flap upwards. I decided to stop being a skinflint and bought a new seat downtown yesterday-- that's it, mounted on the bike, in the next to last picture.

January 26, 2007

The best thing about Duisburg is the sausage.

Thanks to Flightless Parrot:

JENA, Germany - Scientists in the eastern German city of Jena said Wednesday they have finally given up after three years of failed attempts to entice a sloth into budging as part of an experiment in animal movement. The sloth, named Mats, was remanded to a zoo after consistently refusing to climb up and then back down a pole, as part of an experiment conducted by scientists at the University of Jena's Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology. Neither pounds of cucumbers nor plates of homemade spaghetti were appetizing enough to make Mats move. "Mats obviously wanted absolutely nothing to do with furthering science," said Axel Burchardt, a university spokesman. Mats' new home is the zoo in the northwestern city of Duisburg where, according to all reports, he is very comfortable.

January 19, 2007


I put on some nice clothes today, a new sweater, chinos, a shirt I got for my birthday. Got on my bike to ride to the station. It's a warm winter but warm is relative; it was dark, windy, damp, and then smack! I got hit by something gritty in my right temple. That's odd I thought, much too early for teenagers. I thought maybe a bird had flown into me and I didn't think much more about it until I sat down on the train and looked at my pants. When did I spill chocolate on my pants, I thought, and then oh shit, that's not chocolate. I went to the bathroom and saw an enormous bird crap splattered on the right side of my head. More grit than goo, luckily, and after some effort I was able to get things cleaned up-- like my ear and hair, my helmet, jacket, new shirt, pants and bag.
In Denmark they say that if you get hit by bird crap it brings good luck, so today I hit the jackpot. Somewhere there's a bird with a big smile on his face.

January 18, 2007

Hospital Bill

So here's how socialized medicine in Sweden works.

I went to the emergency room with my finger and ended up having surgery and staying overnight. Had to pay $43 up front at the desk with my credit card in order to be able to see anyone. Filling the prescription for antibiotics the next day cost $30. Yesterday we got the bill from the hospital in the mail: $11.40, which my wife offered to pay. It was for the room. And that's it-- plus I left the hospital with my pockets full of bandages, pain pills and some antibiotics that they gave me for free.

I remember a few years back in LA when some friends had their baby via caesarian-- the bill was $11,000, which their insurance paid.

January 17, 2007


How much time do I waste
channel & web surfing, scratching and picking, daydreaming, awaiting my muse
Is this time wasted, or is it the most valuable thing there is
gathering forces, sharpening the saw, subconscious gestation
What is my goal
contact, impact, meaning

January 15, 2007


Its important to start the day with the right mug. Here are some of my favorites. Starting with the back row, from the left:

Treefrogs, my band, my totem.
Sands Hotel Casino, this is my wife's mug but if she doesn't know I'm using it then its OK.
Moomin Pappa, fishing and writing
The Original Pantry, Since 1924, WE NEVER CLOSE. A fixture of downtown LA.
LA Natural History Museum
Barnton Bar and Bistro, from Stirling Scotland. Second oldest mug in my collection-- met my wife in Scotland.
Lake Siljan, Sweden, a nice place for a summer vacation. Formed by a meteor.

Do It Yourself

Soon after we bought our house my parents gave us a copy of Reader's Digest's New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. This book has been my bible as far as working on our house and has helped me to put a new roof on the garage, install new windows, rip out walls, build new walls, put a tile floor in the bathroom and so on. It covers everything from the roof down and is full of the kinds of things you need to know, broken down step-by-step with clear illustrations. A few of the topics it covers:

what do do before, during and after a natural disaster (e.g. how to quickly patch a roof after a storm)
how to bleed a radiator
a complete examination of hand and power tools, how to use them and what to buy
fasteners and adhesives
understanding the nature of wood
patching with fiberglass
how to mix concrete and measure the slump
how to find a stud and work with a contractor
how to replace a toilet
everything you need to know about wallboard, spackle, paint and wallpaper
how to fix shingles and shakes
weatherstripping and insulation
wood stoves, passive solar heating and heat pumps
(Safety: Use power tools with constant caution. Don't work if you're tired, medicated or upset.)

January 14, 2007

A Letter from Lund

I am sitting at the kitchen table. A is with me, playing with the mouse, which I have unplugged. It's windy outside. There is a severe weather warning right now for storm winds with gusts up to hurricaine strength. All train traffic has been cancelled and the bridge is closed. The water in the strait is 4 or 5 feet above normal because of the storm.

We are all recovering. F, A and K all got strep throat after new year's and have just finished taking penicillin. I took my last dose of penicillin, for my finger, a few hours ago. It is healing. I can bend it enough to touch my palm, and they will take out the stiches on Wednesday.

It is an unusual winter. We have only had frost two times so far. Temperatures have been about 10F above normal for each of these months--Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec, and Jan is also unusually warm, windy, wet. Statistically this is only supposed to happen once every 10000 years if it weren't for climate change. Several kinds of flowers are blooming in our yard and crocuses and tulips have started to come up. They have put a pollen warning into the paper for those allergic to hazel and birch, which have started blooming.

F and I had a nice game of Scrabble last night. He played words from English, Swedish and Danish. Also had a nice game of battleship.

Best wishes to all, Matt

January 09, 2007


I have written that I managed to stab myself in the hand with a screwdriver while working in the attic. It had almost healed but a week after the accident it swelled terribly and turned some colors not usually associated with the human condition. I went to the emergency room Saturday. They took blood samples and squeezed me in different locations while I vocalized emphatically. The doctor strapped an ID band onto my wrist and drew a huge arrow on my arm with a black magic marker, pointing at the swollen index finger. They put in an IV, laid me down on the gurney and wheeled it deep into the bowels of the University Hospital. After a while I was told to go into the shower and use this little blue sponge to sterilize my body as an operating room was free. The nurse warned me not to wash off the arrow. 'Hurry!' she said. I washed myself one-handed, trying not to disturb the IV nipple or rip the plastic bag taped over my infected hand. Then I put on county underwear and a little nightgown with disfunctional button holes. I climbed onto the gurney and they wheeled me away.

Earlier the anesthesiologist had stopped by to ask some questions about my sensitivity to various chemicals, and to tell me they would be putting a breathing tube into my esophagus and that I might not feel so good when I woke up. I learned later that a hip doctor had done the surgery on my index finger. Much better than one of those nerd doctors.

I woke up after surgery and felt exceedingly chatty and then after a few minutes it hurt a lot so they gave me a shot of opiates, and then everything was warm and fuzzy. I don't think I saw the same doctor twice, nor the same nurse. Nobody gave me a clear picture if I had just dodged a bullet or if this was as routine as a hiarcut. All I knew was that my hand was wrapped in enough bandages to insulate a small house and it hurt and the IV ached.

The nurses were impressed that had I ridden my bike to the hospital and kept commenting on it to the doctors. I guess people working in orthopedics have a special attitude towards bicyclists at this time of year.

I asked a few of the hospital folk if I would be able to go to work on Monday. Sure, no problem they said. So I went to the University and started giving my lecture. Felt terrible, light-headed, like I was going to pass out. Had to sit down, cancel class and go home. I saw a nurse that afternoon and she said that if I had been an industrial worker they would have given me permission to have a few days off-- apparently academics isn't real work in their eyes. It is disconcerting not to know exactly if you are sick or well.

January 06, 2007

Homemade tires

Check out these homemade studded bike tires on Mellow Velo.

January 04, 2007

Climate change is tragedy at glacial speed

We continue to have unseasonably, unreasonably warm weather in the Oeresund region. Europe has been 8F above average through the past four months. Flowers and bushes are blooming. We have had frost just two times since midsummer. The temperature of the strait is nearly 50 F; normally it is right around freezing this time of year.

Half of the energy generated since the industrial revolution has been used in the past 20 years.

More than 20% of the Arctic ice cap has melted since 1979.

The Primate Brow brought me to an article about Minnesota's winter by WCCO:

According to weekly reports sent Monday to DNR headquarters, aside from counties in the far north, conservation officers are reporting slush, open water and deteriorated ice because of recent rains, making it unsafe.

On Mille Lacs Lake, ice as thin as an inch-and-a-half has caused vehicles to plunge into the water. Open water prevails in central Minnesota, as it does in the southeast, where one officer noticed ducks where solid ice has normally formed by now.

Officer Brett Oberg spotted water skiers on the Mississippi River below Lock and Dam No. 1.

Organizers of the ice-fishing tournament in Forest Lake about 25 miles north of the Twin Cities canceled it after being forced to scratch it in three of the past five years.

January 03, 2007

Try not to type f, g, v, b, r or t.

This will by my last post about insulation. The whole project brought me back to boyhood days spent building tree houses and digging out snow forts with the difference that I didn't have to borrow Dad's tools.

I put up a walkway in order to carry bales of insulation around in the crawlspace without falling through into the kitchen. It's just boards screwed into the beams. I was using a rechargeable screwdriver/drill to put these screws in at a kind of a funny angle, balancing my body getween two beams. At one point the combination buckled and I kind of fell in a way that drove the philipps head screwdriver bit in behind the knuckle of my left index finger. Now I have a wound there that looks like the cap of a philipps head screw. The only bandaids in the house are kids bandaids so yesterday I wore superman to work, and today it is snusmumriken and lilla my.

January 02, 2007

Marine hamster

The rooms upstairs sit under the roof forming a triangular crawlspace up top and one triangular space on each side. The last project of 2006 was to finish insulating the north side crawlspace. The area is just small enough that you can't stand up, and there are nails sticking in from the outside so you need to be careful not to rip your back or scalp. The hard part about the last section was that it was behind a narrow channel created by the stairwell. The only way through is to creep on your belly like a marine at boot camp. I was pushing the insulation in front of me through the channel like a hamster in a habitrail.

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