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Steve Nahn | USLHC | USA

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Prairies and Alps

Ok, I promised my friend Jean to say something about the differences between Batavia and Geneve. But before I get there, a little more about my personal blog policy (Peter kicked it off, and there’s a bunch of discussion on another Peter’s site, about what should and shouldn’t appear, etc.) Here’s the way I look at it:

  • From the invitation to join the blogging community:

    The site is geared toward a wide variety of people: press and media, members of the US funding agencies and government, students and teachers, scientists from all fields, and the general public. In talking to representatives from many of these groups, they’ve all said how important putting a human face on science is, and that blogs are a great tool to achieve this

    To me this means a sort of continuous “day in the life”, rather than a source of latest “news” in the field of particle physics

  • The distribution of scientific information goes through peer reviewed journals. In fact, more than that – there are rather lengthy and thorough review procedures before results are released for external review in every collaboration that I know of. So someone hinting at something interesting in a blog is to be taken at the level of unsubstantiated rumor- maybe it bears out, maybe not, we’ll see when the paper comes out. (My kids know the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf by heart). There are problems with the way this works, for sure, but it does work.
  • As a corollary to the above – Just because I say so in this log doesn’t make it necessarily true. I may make statements about what I believe is correct, but someone else’s experience may be different. As an example…

On the differences between Geneve and Batavia

First off…

Near CERN Near FNAL

Ah, that isn’t being very fair, but suffice it to say that while prairies are fine, I prefer mountains and lakes. On the other hand, this is always misleading – you tell people you just spent 15 months in Switzerland and they immediately assume it was vacation-city, but in fact you are working so you don’t get to enjoy the environs as much as you want. And in fact, I much prefer the freezing but sunny winter day in Illinois to the ever cloudy and damp Geneve January, but that’s me. By the way, I took that picture at around 2400 meters on our way up to 3100 meters at the top of Mt. Buet on a 12 hour hike.

Living in Geneve is certainly a bit more complicated than living in Batavia. First there’s the language – to my shame and the chagrin of my wife, I have never really learned French, although I lived in France for three years and now in Geneve for another year or so. Essentially I have developed some vocabulary and no grammar, which used to unnerve me and make me afraid to try to communicate, but I’m over that now and just bumble through the best I can – with a decent effort and a good sense of humor (and sometimes a thick skin) you can get your message across. Why did I never learn to speak? Well, at CERN, English is the most common language used (everyone’s second language), so learning French isn’t necessary, and in fact I didn’t go there to learn French, I went to partake in CMS, so that is what I spent my time doing. The unfortunate side effect is getting a little lost or eating some “interesting” food but I continue to survive.

The other issue about Geneve is the expense – Switzerland is an expensive country, and Geneve is full of international workers (UN, UNICEF, WHO, WTO, UNHCR, ILO, IUIT…those are just off the top of my head) on expense accounts, so the prices go up accordingly. A while ago I looked at Money magazines “Most Expensive Cities”, at the recommended Government Per Diems from the State Dept., and at an online Relocation Salary Calculator used by MIT’s HR department, and they all told me the same thing – living in Geneve is about 1.5x more expensive than in Boston. Plus the dollar is sinking, but more so against the Euro than the Swiss Franc.

I don’t think I can really compare Geneve to Batavia beyond that – its apples and oranges. In Geneve we lived downtown, which was very fun albeit a bit noisy, because we could just walk almost anywhere or take public transport, which was very good. Batavia is a great town for what it is – which is more than just a bedroom community for Chicagoans, it has a feel all its own (the river helps). But, you are pretty far from the hustle and bustle of Chicago – we didn’t get in there very much, but that probably has more to do with the two youngsters than anything else.

What might be comparable is the difference between FNAL and CERN…but that’s for a later blog.

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