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Winter Solstice

December arrives on schedule with winter weather! Starting late last night, Vancouver has been gently dusted in very dry and very light snow! Its a perfect winter storm sky with nearly uniform grey. E heads out with Penelope to Day Two of the LMF. To get some exercise before taking a 10+ hour plane flight to Frankfurt, T goes outside for a light 25-minute jog. The snow is still falling gently and obscures even the far side of English Bay and Stanley Park. It's perfect outdoor weather! The camera doesn't do it any justice, so no photo of the day today. Sorry!

T explores the delightful land of south-central Deutschland, or Germany. Most of today is spent...in flight! The business trip kicks off in the evening in a suburb of Darmstadt with several thoughtful presentations about Germany and the transformation-in-progress of its research and education system. Historicall, Germany has kept this system sharpyl divided and even stratified. For instance, PhD students don't take any classes and after earnign their degree, they keep working with the same professor. And high-school students take tests and make chocies about their career interests and are then "tracked" into that line of education "forever." The new German education minister noted that German universities no longer appear in any of the lists of the top 50 universities in the world. So the "excellence initiative" was launched to start bringing research, teaching, and education all into closer contact. A pot of money was set aside for which groups could compete if they altered some part of their cultural approach to research and education. For instance, the Karlsruhe university and the Karlsruhe research center--traditionally very separate institutions, agreed to merge and become the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in direct competition with MIT. The new KIT is awesome in the German system: it actually allows students to be in direct contact with researchers who don't have to teach and it allows researchers to be in direct contact with students.
T visits Darmstadt including GSI. Indicative of the German obsession with timeliness, we take a walk in this park in order to kill 5 minutes before an appointment--we wouldn't want to show up 5 minutes early!

The view from TU-Darmstadt's nuclear physics building overlooking the city.

The rear-end of the Hercules experiment at GSI Darmstadt.

The inner courtyard of the very modern Fraunhofer Institute in Kaiserslautern. These Fraunhofer Institutes are an explicit element of the German federal research and development enterprise. They act as technology incubators and develop prototype systems with in-house research faculty in partnership with external engineering or manufacturing companies. Very cool.
The unruly bunch of North Americans disembark from the Bus at the Ludwigsburg Palace.
The place is HUGE.


T's last day on the DAAD tour of Germany. Today, he visits the so-called "Excellence Cluster Universe" at the Garching campus outside of Munich. Garching was originally started as a research campus for the two world-famous Munich universities LMU and TUM in order to host a nuclear reactor for research far away from downtown. Since that time, it was really blommosed into a science park. The Excellence-Cluster is one of the three funding programs introduced by the federal government in the last two years to promote more interactions and team-based research in Germany. The Cluster is located, ironically, at the buildings of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics--because all those scientists have either gone to France to work on ITER or to Greifswald up north to work on the Stellarator. The day ends with a visit to Siemens, the huge industrial research giant. Their campus appears like a cross between Legoland and Disneyland.
Afterward, we have an authentic souther German dinner at the Lowenbrau bierhaus.
T travels home from Munich, Germany, to Vancouver. He leaves Munich at 10am, gets stuck in Frankfurt for three hours and then lands in Vancouver at 4:30pm local. So fast! E is back from her trip as well and as we percolate through customs, we marvel about how welcoming, friendly, peaceful, and just PLEASANT the YVR Vancouver airport is. At home, we find that the apartment has survived well. Its actually cold, though, with clear night skies and perhaps 25-degF weather. We visit a Blockbuster video store and discover that Season 6 of the TV show "24" is on DVD. We pick up the first two discs and watch some of it in the evening. Good golly, we're hooked again. We can't quite say why because it is violent, chauvinistic, and perhaps even jingoistic. The TV show has several unique features, though, that perhaps soften our rejection of it. First, the premise of "taking place in real time" is cute. Although it is less striking in this season, the first few seasons really used that "things are happening fast" element to become even more believable. We've all had "really bad days," and to capture the anxiety, confusion, and "why is this all happening right now?" on film strikes a resonant chord in us. Second, the show does make some efforts to explore SOME of the complex ethical and political dimensions of national security, foreign policy, and rights to privacy. Third, the show is well written, for the large part, and the plots loop back on themselves, stay relevant and tight, and generally have some very sophisticated foreshadowing and twists/turns. Fourth, the main character has a single-minded focus that is enviable, easy for us to empathize with, and also frightening. Sometimes, though, it does some really formulaic and deux-au-machine: to solve this subplot, let's just introduce a new character who one-dimensionally transmits some information, and then we'll let that lead to another one-dimensional character who...and so on. Still, we must confess that we have enjoyed watching the show. We cannot imagine trying to watch in first-run on the networks, though; good god, the suspense of waiting to get the next DVD from the video store is barely survivable!

We make breakfast at home and T takes advantage of the huge Canadian luxury--dry cleaning shops are open on Sundays! The prices are nearly 50% higher, but it is much easier to drop off and retrieve one's clothes than in the USA. At 11pm, T boards a red-eye flight to Ottawa for a business trip.

T arrives in Ottawa by way of Toronto. The Fairmont Chateau Laurier hotel is kind enough to give his room for the night 6 hours early. Ottawa is a charming city with all sort of Christmas decorations, holiday lights, and festive spirits. As the capital of Canada, it has some of the Washington, DC, political buzz but a good portion of the economy still runs on "home for the holidays" tourism that the residents' elbows are not nearly as sharp. The city is small but has a bit of the Chicago feeling with 1900s and 1920s architecture, and a frigid cold winter. Instead of Lake Michigan, however, Ottawa has rivers and canals. So less of a brittle wind! T's business takes him to Sussex Drive for the day where he attends a science-policy lecture from an Amercian bigwig. Delightfully, T gets to participates in a panel discussion afterward and the bigwig invites him several times to personally respond to some questions raised by the Canadians. Norwegian bachelor farmers are so generous! Meanwhile, back at the ranch, E engages in lively pursuit of some holiday gifts. To make some online purchases, we decide to take the plunge and we give one of our credit cards a U.S. billing address again. Welcome home, Mr Credit Card!

T travels home in in the morning.

I don't know if you've been watching the news in Canada at all, but we're celebrating a Canadian-only event this week. Canadians are the only people in the world who are more worried about being embarrassed than causing a nuclear power-plant accident. The country has a dedicated nuclear reactor at Chalk River that uses a special blanket to capture the vast flux of neutrons near the reactor core to make a variety of radioisotopes for medical purposes. Apparently this facility supplies about 50% of the world's customers. The plant was shut down in Nov b/c the regulatory oversight agency found not only some safety violations but also some broken promises about upgrades that had not taken place. So the facility has been offline for weeks now. BUT Parliament comes to the rescue. Concerned about looking bad on the world stage, a law was passed late last night that simply says, "There will not be a nuclear accident in the next 120 days. So let's operate the reactor. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

T breathes a sigh of relief; he wasn't quoted in the morning paper, but his boss was, and T's coaching of both the reporter and his boss paid off. See the articles for more detail. T also has a flash of insight about his boss--NSL is a content person, not a process person (TC will know what this means!). It rains for much of the day, but E witnesses snowflakes for about 30 minutes along the beach. E attends a training class downtown, so we eat dinner at Milestone's on the heated patio. Good food! Its a bit like a diner but with seafood, ceviche, and nice-looking presentation.

It's Friday! Hurrah! We start to plan our first "border run" for tomorrow. We will drive about 60 miles south to cross into Washington State in the good ole USA. Our mission is multi-pronged. We hope to deposit some U.S.$ checks into our U.S. bank account at a U.S. branch. We hope to take a heap of things we no longer want to do some sort of Goodwill or donation station and not only legally get them off our hands, but also to get a donation-to-charity receipt to help our 2007 U.S. taxes.

Hahah! We wimp out. Or rather, we get sucked into watching Season 6 of "24" until the end, so we don't get hardly enough sleep to justify a whole trip down to the United States of America! Besides, with T's recent travel schedule, isn't it luxurious to NOT go anywhere this weekend? We order out for dinner, watch the rain fall down and continue to work on the holiday shopping activity using Canadian and U.S. credit cards in Canadian and U.S. dollars on Canadian and U.S. websites with shipping to U.S. and Canadian addresses.

We celebrate the American Dream. Armed with a gift card in Canadian currency to Wal-Mart, we venture to North Vancouver and the nearest Wal-Mart. The store location satisfies T's definition of the suburbs--you know you're in the suburbs when there is a "nearby" Wal-Mart in all directions (isotropically distributed in the local environment is what T might say). From our home in Kitsilano, the Wal-Marts are NOT in all directions and therefore we know we live "in the city." At Wal-Mart, we sharpen our elbows on throngs of other holiday shoppers and snag some great deals. We get some goodies for the apartment, including an entry mat that doesn't read "GET LOST." We also get some stocking stuffers for E's family tradition of providing stockings for folks who gather at the central farmhouse for the holiday. Despite our apparent restraint, the gift card is spent out rather quickly. And good golly, what a commercialized world we live in! We decompress afterward with some good "Colbert Report" courtesy Tivo.

T attends a meeting of the users group at the lab and gives a fire and brimstone speech. It was all in the green laser pointer!

E gets ill and nearly conks her head hitting the floor when climbing out of bed. Probably just a passing flu, but we keep an eye on her and fill her tummy with all kinds of orange juice, hot tea, and other liquid concoctions.

We meet with a tax consultant in the heart of Chinatown, also learning about the difference between the East and West ends of downtown. We also try out the "pay your parking meter by phone" system. With a cellphone, you call and register a credit card and a license plate and then can simply charge your credit card for a parking meter with an automated system on your cell phone. Text messages confirm everything. Cool! At the tax place, we learn quite a bit. Apparently the avoidance of double-tax is pretty solid. The trick is that since BC and Canada both have higher taxes than the USA, even the Canadian income that is over the standard exclusion amount will end up being taxed only in Canada. That is, the USA would want to tax us more on the Canadian income if we for some reason were paying taxes at a lower rate in canada. This is implemented through the credit for foreign-tax paid line of the U.S. federal 1040. So we think we'll be okay, as long as pay attention and stay in front of everything.

T gets captured on film with friend and colleague EC. Together they hold signage depicting T's now-trademarked phrase joyous celebration. During a meeting in which the topic of reprinting all the business cards whenever a new institution joined the venture, T observed that the appropriate response was to be thankful for the event of such a joyous celebration. If the family grows, welcome it! EC is now headed off into greener pastures. We look forward to more Happy Noodle House dinners where we debate the fate of the universe.
The holiuday adventure begins! As true-blue Americans, we pack up our gear and head to the USA for some christmas shopping. We head directly south on Canada Hwy 99 and arrive at the Peace Arch border crossing in a little less than one hour (fortunately, the metric system uses the same time units!). We wait in line for perhaps 20 minutes, surrounded by many other cars. We're a bit nervous because not only are we carrying some U.S. cash (far less than the level that has to be reported), but also we are hauling a carload of items that we wish to donate to Goodwill in the USA. We're not allowed to "sell or otherwise dispose of" anything in Canada that we brought in from the USA--part of the condition of not having to pay import tax on it (they want us to take it all back to the USA when we're done being here). The border checkpoint entering the USA has all kinds of gadgetry strapped up on the vehicle lanes. There are big square paddles, about 8 of them, all facing our car--perhaps some sort of gamma imaging for nuclear material? We also pass through what looks like a gigantic metal detector frame, but must be something else. There is also a variety of cameras and then some rectangularly housed device that is not a camera that has a gridded face and looks squarely at us. We eventually reach the booth and roll down our windows. "Hello, kind sir!" T calls out. We answer a few questions and then our free...back in the USA! We zip down to Bellingham and stop at a BofA to deposiut U.S. cash and checks; what a relief! Next its a stop at the Goodwill donation station where we lighten our load. We then frolic in the winter mist with stops at TJ Maxx, Trader Joe's, and Costco. With the car full of groceries, christmas goodies, and ourselves, we drift back north through the Peace Arch crossing. The entry-to-Canada has fewer electronic gadgets but the crew seems just as serious. We answer a few questions, thank the nice agent, and then return to Vancouver. A smashingly successful shopping day, and by heading down on a weekday, we avoided 3.2 tonnes of traffic.

At the entry to Canada, we find the sign captured on film here by E: "Think Metric: 30 km/h was 20 mph." We find it riotously funny.
We go for a walk along Broadway Avenue to run some errands. We find a great bagel shop that sells eggels, babka, and rugelach. Tasty!

The day is bright and sunny with the green moss on the trees light up sharply.

We head home for the holidays. After a long night of preparations for gift giving and travel, we get up early and jam all of our gear into three checked suitcases and three carry-ons. The taxi driver at 6am is nice to us and lets us stop by BBuster to return some movies before we arrive at YVR. T's ruse pays off and we are upgraded to First Class on the non-stop flight from Vancouver to Chicago-O'Hare. Wahoo! We arrove without incident, and since we passed through U.S. customs and immigration at YVR, we waltz directly from the airplane to baggage claim to the curb in Chicago. MomH has arranged a sedan for us, and we ride down to F'bury in comfort, chatting up a storm with the driver.
Merry Christmas! Santa sleeps in until about 8am and then we join him. We package up the stocking stuffers we transported with us, wrap the last few gifts in furoshiki-style courtesy E's artistic and creative hands, and then we bobble downstairs. After too much and thoughtfully generous stocking exchanges with DaFolks, the family packs up. We're headed to Turkey Run State Park in west central Indiana. The park is just about due east of F'bury and we hurry over in time to make reservations for dinner at the lodge restaurant. The landscape gives way from flatland with farm fields running out to a husky horizon to rolling hills with trees stripped of leaves and sparkling creeks. The glaciers treated this part of the country with less of a steady hand! After dinner, we finish exchanging gifts which lasts until midnight.

The Turkey Run Inn is shown here from a squatting position out front. The main brick building houses rooms, a restaurant (nothing to write home about), and the main gathering room with a fireplace, free coffee, some board games. Oh, a gift shop, too, of course. Wow!

The park has GREAT trees, all brushing the heavens with wispy fingertips.
The next morning we sleep in until nearly noon. We awaken to a bright and sunny day with a crisp tingle in the air. After a buffet lunch, we head out for some hiking in the canyons, gulches, gullies, ravines, and hollows of Turkey Run. Amazing! Toward the end of the day, Cuzzin R and husband R meet up with DaFamily at the lodge. We have dinner and then head out into the wide world of Rockville, IN, for bowling. Although its men's league night, we wait for a bit and get a lane for our party of six. Despite the lack of an indoor smoking ban, the air is tolerable. We get fluorescent-colored bowling shoes from the rental desk and then settle in a fierce game of trying to keep the ball out of the gutter. E wins the game handily with R and T in close pursuit. The lanes sport a manual scoring system and after some mental footwork, E deduces the algorithm for scoring. Wow, using a paper and pencil -- what a treat!

At the height of his intellect, T dangles from the wires of a suspension bridge that goes over Sugar Creek. E catches him in the act.

Icicles dangle and glisten from many rocky outcroppings. Here's what the world looks like to an icicle...
We pack up our gear and go for another hike, this one deeper into the forested woodlands. We follow a canyon into yonder and end up hiking along some tremendous lichens and deep ravines. After we decide that we're slightly misplaced but not lost, we circle around the rim of the canyon and find our way back to flat and level ground. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

We see green, pink, maroon, brown, and white lichens and fungi of all shapes and sizes. Here is one example of a curled-leaf variety.
E strains her back after a day of setting up phonographs and moving some furniture. The chiropractor makes some "adjustments" and with lots of ibuprofen she's able to move around at a slow pace. We gather with the family of Aunt and Unlce B-G and have a delightful dinner at the home of Mom & Dad H.
We head north from F'bury to the suburbs of Chicago where we miraculously meet up with MomM at an Applebee's. We fully exploit our time in the USA to do some personal banking and as well as take advantage of the U.S. Postal Service to mail some gift parcels to friends with fees and delivery times MUCH lower than from Canada. We check out MomM's newly upgraded house and marvel at the difference electric lamps can make in a room. It's then time to head to Chicago O'Hare where we fly back to Vancouver via non-stop service on United Airlines. Its good to be home!
We spend a day with MomM walking around Kitsilano and then Granville Island. We have some excellently tasty crepes at the Gypsy Rose cafe and then head down to the beach. It is simply too sunny and beautiful to be real, as we show in these photos.

Proof to Pam that MomM was in Vancouver. Looks, she's not even Santa Claus because she is here seated next to him.

The views from the maritime-museum point are simply stunning.

Happy New Year's Eve! We celebrate the day with a special trip to IKEA in Richmond with MomM. The store is crowded, but not unreasonably so and we take advantage of a few year-end price reductions. We enjoy a tasty special dinner at ToMaTo Cafe, a cute healthy-food restaurant in Kitsilano. T's pasta dish is scrumptious and the chocolate dessert is amazing. But the culimination of our day, and perhaps the year, comes in two forms. We stop by the 2007 Festival of Lights at the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens. There, they have covered several acres of trees and bushes with 1.5 millions christmas lights! It is so over-the-top that it is beautiful and really cool. We snap a few photos of the display as shown here, but is just doesn't do it justice. Truly a magical fairy-tale land! At the end of the day, to celebrate New Year's Pacific Northwest style, we watch the countdown in Seattle on TV. The fireworks at the Space Needle fail to go off because...of a computer malfunction! Hahah.



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