Using a Raspberry Pi w/o Monitor & Keyboard

I recently decided to (finally) buy a Raspberry Pi. I’d been curious about it for a while, and thought it might be a useful addition to my laptop for running some compute intensive simulations. So I went ahead and ordered one, and so far I have no regrets. Partly for my own records, and partly by request, here is a quick overview of how I got it up and running and connect to it from my (Linux) laptop, thus avoiding the need for a separate monitor and keyboard.

raspberry-pi-small

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Running Google Earth on Linux

For many years now, dedicated Linux users (including myself) have been complaining that Google Earth does not run properly on Linux. In fact, it crashes almost immediately after the program is started. Searching the web on this topic, it seems that the problem is common and long-standing, but somehow Google has not (yet) come up with a fix. However, it seems to be related to a network connectivity issue, and here is a (crude) way to avoid the program from crashing at start-up. Read more

Watching the Perseid Meteor Shower

On the night of 12-13 August, I took some friends up to the top of a small mountain to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower. This year was predicted to be particularly good, largely due to the peak of the shower being just a few days before a new moon, making for optimal (i.e., dark) viewing conditions. The weather forecast called for a clear night sky, so we were all excited to watch this show (with an expected 50-100 meteors per hour) from a high and dry vantage point away from the city lights. Read more

Incredible Croatia

I just spent six weeks (6 May – 16 June) traveling and hiking around in Croatia, and also a little bit in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. An absolutely amazing trip! Stunning scenery, wonderful weather, and friendly folks. Below is a brief impression. For more pictures, follow the link at the bottom of this post. Read more

The Living Set

Life is a self-sustaining network of chemical reactions. A living system produces its own components from basic food sources in such a way that these components maintain and regulate the very chemical network that produced them. Based on this notion of life, several models of minimal living systems were developed during the 1970s. While these models captured an essential aspect of the organization of living things, however, they could not directly explain how such systems emerged from a primordial soup of basic chemicals.

Read the full story in The Scientist

Suspicious Preparedness?

Being prepared for disasters, whether natural or man-made, is of course a good thing.  But it seems that the global efforts for preparedness are suddenly getting to an extreme this year. From terror attacks to asteroid impacts and, yes, alien invasions, several large scale training exercises have been or are being held this year. Sounds suspicious? Judge for yourself…

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A Tale of Täufer and Thönen

In 1711, a man by the name of Hans Thönen left the small village of Frutigen in Switzerland, and traveled by boat along the Rhine river to The Netherlands, where he settled in the town of Kampen. He was not the only one though, as he was part of a large enforced migration. However, the reason this particular person is worth mentioning is that he turns out to be one of my ancestors.

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Mysterious Dolmens

Holland is a very flat country without any mountains or rocky areas. Yet in the northern part of this little land you will find megalithic structures with big boulders, some weighing more than 20 tons, stacked on top of each other. For a long time, the purpose of these structures and the origin of these boulders was a mystery. And even though archaeologists now have a better understanding of these dolmens, or “hunebedden” as they are called in Dutch, many of the questions surrounding them remain only partially answered.

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Is the Mind Algorithmic? Confusing Science Speak with Layman Language

Evolution is just a theory.” This claim, often made by creationists, is clearly based on a confusion of the scientific meaning of the word “theory” with its meaning in common language. We can forgive confused creationists, though, as most of them unfortunately know very little about science (all the more important it is for us to explain our research in a clear way). However, when scientists themselves make such mistakes, perhaps we should be less forgiving.

Read the full story on Sciworthy.com

Jurassic Joy

The Jura Mountains, in the north of Switzerland and extending into France, are a relatively small but very pretty mountain range. With a highest elevation around 1700m, at first sight they do not seem as impressive as the neighboring Alps. However, they actually hold several hidden treasures. The Gorge de l’Areuse is one such treasure. Read more

Modern times…

Just thought this was a nice picture: my current computing set-up at home. New laptop (left; with external keyboard & mouse) for regular work, old laptop (right) to connect with the computer cluster at the university, and meanwhile watching live snooker (UK championships) on my tablet (middle).

In the meantime, a whole bunch of computers in the large computing cluster at the university are also cranking away for me, but those are in some university building on the other side of town. Unfortunately they didn’t fit into the picture… 😉

Nerd

The Endless River

I just listened to the new Pink Floyd album The Endless River. I’ve always considered Pink Floyd as one of the most interesting, innovative, and creative bands of all time, especially their stuff from the 70s. But alas, those days are gone, and I can’t say I’m very impressed with their latest (and probably last) album. There are two things I do like about The Endless River, though. Read more

From Salt to Salary: Linguists Take a Page from Science

Language is something we take for granted; we use it every day and could not live without it in today’s world. However, languages are not static but, rather, evolve. While the differences between American and British English are manageable, for example, reading Shakespeare in its original form poses some challenges — and reading the original Beowulf is almost impossible. Like biological species, languages change over time and sometimes “speciate” to give rise to several descendant languages.

Read the full story on NPR 13.7 Cosmos & Culture

Chamonix, the Cheap and Cheerful Way

Chamonix (France), at the foot of the highest mountain in the European Alps, is the perfect base for all kinds of outdoors adventures. Hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, and mountaineering in summer, and skiing, snowboarding, sledging, and snowshoeing in winter. Even the less adventurous can have a full view of the Mont Blanc, with its peak at 4810m altitude, from the center of town. Add to that the many cable cars that take you more than 1000m up above the valley floor in just a few minutes, and you have a complete adventure package, for every level of interest and ability. Read more

Origin of Life Research on the Rise

[Note: This post is a modified and updated version of my earlier guest commentary on NPR 13.7 cosmos & culture]

For a long time, the origin of life was not considered a scientifically relevant problem. In fact, it was believed that life arises spontaneously all the time. Only after Louis Pasteur’s experimental demonstration that all life comes from other life, and the publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection (both around the middle of the 19th century), did the ultimate origin of life become a scientific question. However, it took (almost) another century before the first real scientific steps towards actually solving the problem were taken. Read more

Amazing Arolla — A 4-day Hiking Trip

Having been stuck at home for most of July, due to unseasonably wet weather, the forecast for the first week of August finally looked quite promising. So I decided to head out to the tiny little village of Arolla, located at 2000m (6600ft) altitude near the upper end of a long and beautiful valley in southern Switzerland. Read more

Flight MH17 Anomaly Claim Debunked

Shortly after the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17, there were many “conspiracy theories” going around on the internet. One of the more bizarre claims that were made, is that the plane that took off from Amsterdam was not the same as the one that crashed in Ukraine. This claim was mostly based on a picture posted on facebook, shortly before boarding the plane, by Cor Pan, a Dutch passenger on that fateful flight. Read more