Thursday, November 26, 2015

World-news - the fall of 2015

I have no good cat picture, but this is Blacky nursing kittens.
It's hard to find the 'right' words to describe tragedies.  I only hope that the world I live in will not blow up any time soon. My favorite news program remains the Onion explains. I think they do a better job of presenting the political situation than I ever could.

So, people fight in the name of religion. What do I believe in?
I believe in being kind. I think we all have some inner strength that shines through at times. This is more obvious when we do things that at first appear impossible.

I am a scientist, and so I know that the world did not start with Adam and Eve. Life started with bacteria. Once more complex systems appeared, they grouped themselves together to be stronger.  People do that, too.

Religious groups have thus been around for  a long time. They promote a strong connection between their members through some deit(y/ies), but are all invariably outdated in their beliefs, e.g., the world is not 6000 years old, it is not right to marry underage children between themselves or to old men or have children with your father.  What such groups have in common is that they all say they promote kindness, which is often reserved to the people in the particular religion to give it more power.

To strengthen, enforce and display power, people perform violent acts. They then use this violence to promote themselves, and the organization they are part of.  In the past, people were burned at the stake in the name of God. Now, beheadings, bombings and mass shootings are coordinated in the name of Allah. Neither Allah nor God are obviously directly involved in these crusades, but the acts of violence have more power if they are done in the name of a deity. They can be then be seen as 'divine' revenge for wrongs committed in the past, which result in more killings, more opportunities for revenge, and often respect and idolization of the people perpetrating the violent acts.

 A deity remains a beautiful name for our ignorance in the same way dark matter and dark energy beautifully label 95% of the energy density of the universe. We gave the dark sector a nice name that does not make us understand it better, but it does help in obtaining funding for experiments. Beauty in a name is powerful especially when we do not know what we are naming. Who would fight and lose their life if they were told they simply further ignorance?

Humanity will always need people who promote kindness.  Ideally, the job of a religious institutions is not to judge and condemn, but help the communities they serve. I was disappointed to say the least with the response of the Orthodox church to the Colectiv disaster.  Anyone who says that people who listen to music deserve to be burnt alive should not be heading a church or any other public institution. They reminded me that patriarchs and priests are humans who are often both wrong and representative of a faulty system. I have, however, met a number of kind and talented priests. I try to remember them instead independent of denomination.

Shootings in the US. 
Mass shootings have been 64 days apart in 2015 and have increased in frequency since 2011. Some perpetrators are Arab, but many are white; writes an entertaining article about the white mass-murderers from North and South Carolina. Part of the problem is that these criminals become media sensations, and still nothing is done to prevent such events from happening in the future.

The last mass shooting was in San Bernandino. It impressed me more than the others because I remember driving through San Bernardino with my brother when he was a PhD student at Caltech. The perpetrators were a young Arab couple with a six month old baby. They murdered 14 of their colleagues at a party for the disabled.

I see it as important to stop turning criminals into media sensations. They should be statistics without faces. Whoever these people are, they do not deserve the press they get. The notoriety only attracts more criminals, who perpetrate similar acts in hope of leaving their mark on the world. I do not care who their family is, but I do believe that, in general, children should be removed from extremist families, and placed with families that do not suffer from this pathology. Beyond that I do not want to know their names, their hobbies or what their brothers/sisters/parents think.

Do I believe there will be a 3rd world war? No! I do not see reasons for a war between Russia and Turkey, Europe, and/or the United States. Since we won't see another doubling of the population, there should not be competition over resources. Moreover, each of these countries has the weapons to create major disasters on Earth, and the 'purpose' of those weapons is to prevent a war between weapon-holders. The competition for the power exerted by the chosen few over the rest of the world is ongoing with focus on the Middle East. While there is some conflict in Ukraine, I expect there is no need for a major re-drawing of borders.

More unrest in the Middle East?  I used to think that the next country to go into anarchy would be Iran, but now it seems that Saudi Arabia will perhaps fall next.

Low birth rate? More migrants
In the past, epidemics and the lack of food enforced population control. Smarter parents had children with a higher probability of survival because they usually produced and managed resources better. Now that the probability of survival is high, communities who enforce religion have children, and those who do not fail to reproduce. The more extreme the religion (i.e., the crazier), the more children they have. In countries with high levels of education, religion works only to a limited extent. So, there not enough people to perform poorly paid jobs, and we rely on immigrants. The US has the Mexicans for low paid jobs, and continues to try to attract some of the best and the brightest minds from all over the world for the higher paid jobs. Europe has migrants from the Arab world with the latest wave being from Syria. The latest wave was too dense and so very hard to deal with, but it should still lead to economic growth and to progress.

Limiting Climate Change: Alternative energy sources? Better transportation? There is a need for work in many directions that do not involve war. We have to slow down climate change, and yet integrate, educate, and bring the rest of the world's population above the poverty line.   Bill Gates writes an inspiring note after the Paris climate change talks and discusses a paint to turn any surface in a solar panel among other things. The investment in solar energy is growing in the US with Solar City proving installations for both businesses and private residences. Elton Musk plans to build a new kind of railways called the Hyperloop on which trains will be faster than planes while relying on solar energy (i.e., virtually no pollution). A hyperloop prototype might be ready by 2017. Mihai (my brother) said that Hyperloop would be like a huge LIGO detector, and turn out to be very expensive, but I am hopeful.

The next US president?
 The presidential race continues to be like a bad movie. Donald Trump's strategy relies on getting people who hate other people to identify themselves with him and vote for him. Historically, this type of strategy worked well over and over, and it really should not be surprising that it is working again. It is just that as educated individuals we believe in equality and in some kind of utopia where people are not so vulnerable due to the many things they hate.

Canada: the country of the year. One of our visiting faculty once told me that Canada is the best country in the world, and I am now inclined to agree with him. I am proud of Canada, and of their government (50% men and 50% women). It will be interesting to see how they succeed in integrating  25, 000 Syrians over the next 3-4 months.

Missions: LISA Pathfinder was launched successfully! News about LIGO's first gravitational wave detection are expected soon!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Clocking in: Christine's Egg Freezing Adventure

Photo credit:
We often hear about egg freezing as a recommended option for professional women who want to postpone having children to their late 30s or 40s or perhaps even later. Christine is brave enough to both go through this process and write about it so that we can have the details of what it entails.

A bit about Christine
Read Part 1 of her post here.
Christine did her PhD at the University of Zurich, and I was one of her mentors and collaborators.  She is an amazing researcher who was invited to meet President Obama three days after her PhD defense. She is also the first PhD I wrote a letter of recommendation for. I particularly enjoyed writing that my opinion of her abilities is seconded by that of the president of the United States of America.

Christine is now a researcher in astrophysics at Caltech where she holds a prestigious fellowship from the US National Science Foundation. She flies planes for fun, and is scheduled to be in Antarctica for one year starting in January 2016 for training and research.

My favorite part of her post is her statement that women come with a built-in 3D printer that creates people, and that men should be begging to use it. That is simply sublime, but I should and will refrain from elaborating further.

Note that this is a very personal choice, and we each have the right to make our own choices. It is not OK to insult or write abusive comments.

What is my opinion on the subject? Egg freezing is a good plan B if a woman plans to have children after her mid-30s. The age of the mother at the time the eggs are harvested plays a crucial role in determining the success rate of the procedure.  There are, of course, in any age pool some people who succeed naturally, some who need treatment and for whom the treatment works, and some for whom IVF fails. Young frozen eggs increase the probability of success when IVF is needed. They do not guarantee success.  This treatment is quite expensive, but, if the patient is young and healthy enough, it may be financed by selling some of the eggs.

All the female professors I have met who have families and have led discussions on the subject, regretted not having children earlier, and building a life around them vs. waiting for tenure or some other poorly defined "right time". After having a child myself, I agree with them.

Advice from Tusa Tavi
My last conversation with Tusa Tavi (the sister of my grandpa) went along the lines:
me: I passed my qualifier exams today! 
TusaTavi: That's nice, but you do have a university degree.
me: I do. I also have a Masters, and I am working towards a second Masters and a PhD.
TusaTavi: Then you can support a child.
me: I cannot have a child alone, and right now there is nobody in my life with whom I would want to have and raise a child.

TusaTavi: Well... go to class and drop a pen. See who picks it up. If you don't like them, try again.

Octavia - middle-aged
Grandpa, Mom, Ionica, Tavi & Mariana
Tusa Tavi then reminded me that she had helped raise many children above and beyond her job as a Mathematics professor.  Her last protege was still in kindergarten. Children loved her because she had always found the time to take them seriously, and listen carefully to everything they had to say. She had been there for her family, friends and neighbors, and for a number random people she met who needed her help, but the one thing she regretted was not having had a child of her own. She thought it would not have mattered so much with who. Most of the suitors had been educated and kind or seemed so from her stories. Once she had a college degree, she was able to both support herself and help family, and she thought she would have been able to support a child at any time since then. Part of her message was that she believed I could do it, too. She said that, anyhow, I should expect to do most of the bringing up myself and so I should not wait too long before starting a family.

Years later with her husband
Octavia - young
Tusa Tavi had defined propriety for me. She had always emphasized the importance of being both correct and gentle. I spent my girlhood listening to her stories. She had married late and had had plenty of suitors before that - each with a funny story of his own. She and my uncle met and started a courtship before the second world war, but only married 15 years later. At the very end, she did not regret any of her suitors, but simply wished she had had more strength and courage herself.

 She died before I went back home to visit and so we never spoke again.  She was 90 and I was 22. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Looking for Aliens

Ravi Kopparapu visited Zurich some time ago and gave a very interesting seminar that summarized the latest work in extrasolar planets. Some of the things I've learned are below. Note that the title comes from the description that Ravi's daughter gave of this. The actual talk title was "Habitable Zones and the Occurrence of Potential Habitable Planets in our Galaxy".

When is a planet Habitable? 
Habitable zones [Image from Ravi's website]
 A rocky planet is potentially habitable if it contains water. In our solar system, the Earth is located close to the inner edge of our habitable zone (also known as the Goldilocks zone). Mars is located close to the outer edge.  The Moon is outside our Goldilocks zone.

Ravi (together with James Kasting from Penn State University and others) built a calculator for finding habitable zones around different kind of stars. The brighter the star the further way the planet has to be to be habitable. The coolest types of stars are M-stars or red dwarfs. They are numerous and dim, and so the habitable planets in their orbits can be closer in. Planets around M-stars are also tidally locked. This means that they rotate synchronously just like the Moon does - always keeping the same side towards Earth.

Close to the inner edge of the Habitable zone, the planet has a water dominated surface like Earth. At the inner edge, the planet is so hot that most of the water has evaporated to the atmosphere, then it is no longer habitable.  At the outer edge, the temperature is low, and no amount of carbon dioxide will warm up the planet to melt the ice. For a star like our Sun, the inner edge of the habitable zone was first found to be between 0.97 to 0.99 AU, while the outer edge is at 1.6 AU. However, this model did not include could feedback.

3D models also include clouds, which reflect some of the sunlight and allow the planet to be slightly closer to the star. The inner edge of the habitable zone for a Sun-like star shifts to around 0.93 to 0.95 AU, whereas the outer edge remains unchanged (1.6 AU). Mars is at 1.5 AU, while Venus is outside the habitable zone receiving about twice as much sunlight as Earth.

It has been known for a long time (1996) that there was ice at the Martian North Pole, and beneath the surface at the South Pole. Structures and rocks on Mars also suggested the presence of flowing water. But there was no direct proof of water flowing now on the surface of Mars until the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found hydrated salts. This means that very salty water still flows occasionally on Mars. 

How many planets have been found in Habitable zones?
There are about 30some known planets in the habitable zones of other stars, and out of those about 10 are Earth-sized. The numbers are so low because current technology does not allow us to see most of them, not because the planets don't exist.

How do we estimate habitability from so far away?
Life interacts with the atmosphere. We would expect to see the same kind of gases as we observe in the Earth spectrum: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, water vapor, ozone, methane, and dominant nitrogen. Plate tectonics is also very important.  It causes volcanism, and volcanoes are believed to be what got our planet out of the various ice-ages.

Life under-surface would not interact as easily with the atmosphere, and would be harder to detect from far away.  

Snow Ball Earth
The Earth is believed to have had many ice-ages (C-Si cycle). About 700 million years ago, our planet was a snow ball. The the ice was 1 km think and reached the Equator.  There are a number of proposed triggers for the ice age - one could be the eruption of a super-volcano like Yellowstone. The carbon dioxide is taken away from the atmosphere into the subsurface of the Earth. It is called the Carbon-Silicate cycle where the surface Silicates are converted to carbonate sediments. In time carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere again and the ice melts. 

How many planets do we expect around a given star?
Every star should have at least one planet of any kind orbiting it. Planets are common. They are not an exception. They exist around every star in our galaxy.

The first Earth-like planets were found more than 20 years ago. In 1992, it was found that planets could orbit pulsars. This shifts the center of mass of the system. The pulsar then wobbles around the center of mass causing millisecond delays in the pulse arrival times. 

Twenty years ago (in 1995)  Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland) found the first extrasolar planet around a Sun-like star. 51 Pegasi B became a prototype for a new class of planets - the Hot Jupiters. They are big like Jupiter, but orbit very close to their stars, which induces high surface temperatures.  These planets were first found via the radial velocity method, which measures the velocity shift in the spectral lines of the star induced by the planet's gravity.

Both the temperature and mass of 51 Pegasi B are Sun-like. It has a surface temperature of over 5500 K. The light it reflects from its Sun is in the visible spectrum, and can be detected from Earth. Recent work suggests that this planet could pioneer yet another way for finding nearby extrasolar planets.

Today some 4000+ planets were found. Most were found by NASA's Kepler mission in 2009-2013 via the transit method. When the planet crosses in front of the parent star disk, the observed brightness of the star drops by a small amount. Three transits should be observed to confirm a detection.  For our Earth, a far-away alien civilization would observe one transit per year. The mission duration of four years was chosen so that Kepler could find Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars.

 How to find Alien life?  
 Keep searching and keep an open mind...

Kepler has recently found a star with an unusual a-periodic pattern. Two hypothesis were put forward: (1) a swarm of comets that are perhaps a remnant of a kind of collision and (2) an Alien
Mega-structure that perhaps consists of solar panels used by some very advanced alien civilization.
So, have we found aliens. Well... of course, not, but more data is needed, e.g., infrared and 
radio data. This is the first reasonable candidate that could be used to develop SETI methods. It is very reasonable that some more odd balls will be found when looking for planets.

Perhaps we will look at the atmosphere of habitable planets and find life outside the solar system that way or perhaps there will be some satellites built by aliens that we will see around the stars that host habitable planets. Either way it is timely to start taking SETI research seriously.

Other news
Geoffrey Marcy who led the research team that discovered the first planetary system around a Sun-like star resigned his professorship under pressure after allegations of sexual harassment. He went from being known as the finder of new worlds and being nominated for the Nobel prize to having to quit his position at Berkeley. He was also a co-Investigator of the Kepler mission. He is thus a person who changed our understanding of science.

I did not know him, but apparently his behavior had been an "open secret". So, why put the pressure now? did he disturb important enough people with unrelated behavior? was he not productive enough (he is 61) and so it did not make sense for the university to continue to cover his apparently non-criminal indiscretions? does it makes more sense to hire someone else on his position at this point? is it a combination of factors? Or is it really about setting a zero tolerance policy to sexual harassment in universities around the world? I have given up trying to understand politics for some time, and I want to think even less on these issues now that I am applying for jobs again.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A day in the train

Foreword: This is a description of the people my brother (Mihai Bondarescu) met in one of his many trips in various trains. I thought he wrote it well. So, I am posting it. It is in his words with some minor modifications. He has always had a talent to attract interesting company, and I am of the opinion he should write down more of his experiences.

I have just crossed into the Czech Republic. Two men joined me in the train compartment. So far I have had all the 6 seats to myself.  One wears a T-shirt marked “The Big Cat Beat Department Presents The 2001 Johnny Be Good Tour". He does not speak English. He lacks a few teeth and the rest are not in any order. 

The other man is more interesting. His eyes speak of power — he is not a nobody. He likely changed his world in some way. I try to speak to him. No English, no French, no Italian, no Spanish or Romanian. He offers a few words in German, but at first he does not appear to speak enough to have a conversation. He does however speak Russian, Bulgarian, Polish and Czech — specifies he can speak the languages in both their Standard form and with Slovakian accent. He is a short, stubby person with grey hair. He appears to be somewhere between 60 and 70. He wears a suit and a tie with a dark-brown shirt — all specially cut and carefully styled to embrace his unusual body. He has very short arms and legs. His hands are thick with very, very short stubby fingers. He is cleanly shaved and has stylish glasses to accommodate his age (they appear to have +2/+3-dioptre — not very strong). Yet his hands show signs of wear and tear. He may have a few chicken and a garden. He must like doing his own housework. I am sure he is comfortable with an axe and would not ever think of it as a weapon if he suddenly noticed one in my backpack. His face boasts beautiful features  — his unusual body is not enough to make him ugly. His cheeks are slightly red, with a patch of superficial varicose veins that turn blue from time to time. He must have high blood pressure, probably linked to a diet rich in steak and good wine, which his prominent position in the bureaucratic apparatus must afford. He has a mouth full of white teeth, which is somewhat unusual for his age in this part of the world. He must have a good dentist.

He likely started life in a Communist Czech Republic, probably somewhere close to where he boarded the train, near the East German border.  He likely rose through the ranks of the Communist Party and, after the collapse of Communism, continued his career under the European Union. Both regimes worked with many of the same people. He may have even gone to University in the process — probably to study Scientific Socialism/political science mixed with some sort of mathematics. He may have studied abroad in places as exotic as Poland or as far as Russia.

He must be a man who understands that there is a time to steal, a time to be honest and a time to show respect to people who appear 'worthy' of it. Today, I’m such a person. I speak English and I have a Mac, which I use to type this. I look busy and important.

He reads the newspaper - world news about the war in Ukraine, the situation in Egypt, Obama and Putin. I cannot understand the words, but I might have picked the same paper.  

It is remarkable how both Communism and Capitalism promote the same type of people. Smart and Subdued. Hard-working people who are able to be honest and reliable and at the same time thieves. People who just function as part of an Apparatus without judging it— they play their role in society no matter what that may be. 

I decide to test my assessments of the man opposite to me and start a conversation. Since I do not speak the other languages he speaks, we settle for German.

I ask him what he does in Prague. Is it work?
— No, he says, I’m retired. I’m 56 years old.

He smiles. His smile reveals pieces of shiny metal in his mouth — hooks that attach his beautiful fake teeth to the few remaining form his younger years. No visible tooth displays original enamel, but are all easy on the eye.

Where do you live?
— Half in Czech Republic, half in Bulgaria. 8 Months here, 4 months there.

I press him to tell me more about his work. Is it politics?
— Half politics, says the man. Not central.

He appears worried that he is not a high-profile politician. He is suddenly humble. He says he is very low-class. He only does local politics. No decisions.

I tell him a bit about my work and travel - Martinique, volcanoes, Los Angeles, and about my mixed family.  He shows appreciation for China. I show him my Romanian ID card and brag about being able to go all the way to South America (French Guyana) with it. He and the other man opposite to me immediately reciprocate by showing me their Czech identity cards and, yes, theirs are better. They can enter America without a passport.

The man then tells me more about his international lifestyle and interesting past. He worked two years in Libya for Gaddafi. He was an electronics engineer — part of an exchange program for technology transfer between Libyans and Czech communists. Due to this sort of programs and men like him, Libya was one of the best places to be if you wanted to go to Africa in the golden years of Gaddafi’s rule. He was there in 1985. He tells me about the Libya he saw then— clean hospitals, beautiful cities, safe streets, organized society — all kept together by Gaddafi’s KGB-style political rule.

Gaddafi is known to the west as a terrorist — a terrible man — someone who loved power so much that it did not matter how much blood he spilled. Yet he was someone who created an order that upheld his law in the middle of a lawless continent. This order was kept by an army of men like the one I speak to — intelligent, powerful and obedient. Libya thus became a predictable society — a place that could attract foreign brain and investment from fellow dictators from communist countries like the Czech republic — an alternative to the American Way.

The train reaches Prague. This brings our brief conversation to an end. The two men leave. Two other men join me and take their place. They seem young. Maybe students. One has a Mac with a label — “GoodData”. His arms are sunburned. I ask him why. He says he enjoys rock climbing in Brno. He works as a computer scientist somewhere.

The other young man is tall and slim. He seems excessively slim, but also full of life. He works for a McKinsey off-shoot. He is structuring and restructuring the world of mobile phones. He worked 18 months in Singapore. We have an interesting discussion about life there — the country with the lowest birth rate in the world and with only 5 square meters of land for each of its citizens. This statistics must have popped into my mind from the days when I was selling land — I think the 5 square meters is agricultural land per capita.  Singaporeans earn a lot of money, which buys them awfully little. Each car requires a certificate that costs $50 000. That is what I would have had to pay to drive my $40 Super-Car around town. They often work hard, and own no car, no house, and have no family, but live pretty well otherwise.

The consultant is so distracted by our discussion that he almost misses his station — Bratislava. He realizes he has to go only after the train has stopped. He quickly grabs his bags and leaves. He also leaves behind a copy of the Economist which I enjoy.

In Bratislava a man and a woman join me. The woman is tall and pretty - really tall, very slim and outstandingly pretty. The man is from Ukraine. He is heading to Budapest to take a flight home. He is thinking about his family and about potentially having to join the war effort. Men between 18 and 25 have already been called to join military refreshments camps, which remind them how to use a gun and how to fight a war without one. He is 32 and currently still able to go in and out of the country as he pleases - today - maybe not tomorrow because once he is called to join the army, he cannot cross the border anymore. I ask him why he is spending the money to go to Ukraine instead of spending it to get out of the country and stay out. He tells me he loves his country, and is ready to fight. 

When I think of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko comes to mind. She was freed from jail as soon as the president who jailed her fled the country for Russia.  Yanukovych himself was jailed twice for theft. He also escaped 'clean' from poisoning his rival — Viktor Yushchenko, who, even after facing death and being terribly desfigurated by dioxin, beat him in one election (but not in the next). It is interesting how war, corruption and death makes the population so much more patriotic than a healthy economy.

I get off in Budapest. I try to buy a ticket for the next train, but they refuse to sell me one. They stop selling sleeping supplements one hour before departure. Why? The train is empty, but the rule is the rule unless you can find a way to go around the rule. Emptiness is not a cause for exception. The empty train is waiting for me in the station. It waits for a long 30 min before departure, which appears excessive. I ask one of the train attendants about supplements. He is happy to sell me one for 16.5 Euro. He places me in a train compartment with a young man who is also going to Arad. We speak in Romanian. He just finished university in Innsbruck  and is heading home. He wants to be free, not a “robot” as he calls western workers. His parents have a car shop — detailing, washing and performing small repairs. He sees it as an opportunity to start something that can grow exponentially. He may succeed. Romania is unstable enough to have lots of vacancies in its rich and very rich classes. 

He is also a high-caliber cyclist. He has been in Deutsche Bundesliga. He tells me about sports and drugs. Apparently, the most recent thing to do is put your blood in the fridge and inject it back just before the competition. It boosts oxygen transport and gives you the extra bit of energy needed to cross the finish line a fraction of a second sooner. 

We both get off in Arad. He is impressed by the train station — relatively clean with very few homeless people. An unofficial taxi driver accosts us. He wants to take us to Timisoara for 100 Lei. The train is only 18. I tell him that I am sorry, but I will not buy such services 20 minutes before the train departs.

A few minutes later, an older man comes near. He asks for permission to sit on the radiator next to us. He has been sleeping in the station. He tells us he came from Timisoara with the cheap train last night to visit an aunt who may or may not give him 20 lei. The aunt must be in her eighties. He is 61, but he will only get his pension at 62. His wife divorced him and now he has no home. He lives in a free retirement house (old people asylum) and occasionally takes a day off to sleep in his favourite train station. I did not give him money and I feel sorry about it. He would have really liked a glass of Vodka. I will be as old as him in 27 years and, if I go bankrupt, I may become a professional train traveler. The guards do not do much to people who stink enough to make it clear they cannot pay — they may ask them to get off the train once in a while, but there is always another train…

I board the train from Arad to Timisoara. It is impressive. It has more ticket inspectors than passengers. They are there to police each other and instil fear in passengers. The Romanian train looks just like the S-bahn from Germany. It must be German: either bought new with European money or imported for free by the Romanians after its German-life ran out. Either way, it does not make much difference. The windows were probably broken in Romania — what a thrill to break a $1000 piece of glass. Even if they sell the offender's car they will not get their money back! Some windows have visible signs of stone impact, while others are just cracked all the way across.

On one window, there is an ad telling people to buy tickets and travel comfortably as opposed to paying bribes. The ad covers broken glass, but the part explaining the scary consequences of traveling without a ticket is covered in a piece of sticky plastic. Why scare people ?

No ticket check all the way to Timisoara - yet so many ticket inspectors for company.

Timisoara. Home at last.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ground-based optical clocks as a tool to monitor volcanaoes and the solid Earth tide


We discuss potential applications for optical clocks in a ground network (see the technical article; also the UZH press release in English or Germanour research was featured on, science daily, esciencenews, brunchnews, scienceweek,; SWR radio, St. Gallen Tagblatt, Schweiz Magazine,, Austria's press reader, NZZ, der Kleine Bund,,,, Sonntagszeitung, gizmag). My favorite title among the various news reports is "Einsteins tanz auf dem Vulkan" from Since 2000, the best clocks on Earth have been optical atomic clocks, which rely on atomic transitions in the spectrum of visible light. The latest optical clocks are so precise that if they ran for 10 billion years, they would lose less than a second. However, these superb clocks are mostly confined to the laboratory. Science and industry have yet to take full advantage of their unprecedented ability to measure time. 

Optical atomic clocks to monitor volcanoes
Near a GPS station on Mount Pelee

Mihai (my brother & co-author)

Optical clocks could provide constraints on the volume of new magma entering the chamber. A combination of clock and gravimeter data could determine whether a series of Earthquakes that lead to a gradual change in elevation over a period of a few days are associated with magma movements underground, and potentially with future eruptions.  The delay between the magma chamber filling up and the ground uplifting may also be determined.

Better monitoring of the solid Earth tide
Tides occur because the Earth moves in the gravitational field of the Sun and of the Moon. Our planet responds to this external field by deforming, which causes the ground (and the water level) to fall and rise periodically. On continents, ground uplift due to the tidal pull can be as high as 50 cm. A global clock network would have maximal sensitivity to the solid Earth tide. Data from such a network would help us investigate how the crust reacts to the tidal pull under high tension or before it cracks.

Clocks are sensitive to a different combination of tidal love numbers than gravimeters. A clock network on the continental scale that would continuously monitor the amplitude of the solid Earth tides could calibrate existing models. The crust may react differently to tidal deformations in different areas. Additionally, accurate tidal monitoring near fault lines may shed more light on the connection between tides and Earthquakes, and perhaps improve our understanding of triggered seismicity.

 Using general relativistic effects to monitor ground motion
Clocks do not click everywhere at the same rate. This slow down of time close to heavy objects is a general relativistic effect. Massive objects curve space-time slowing down time. An observer outside a black hole sees time stopping all together at the black hole horizon. Clocks near a neutron star would tick at about half their rate on Earth. Similarly, clocks closer to Earth tick slightly slower than clocks further away.  

Sources below ground affect the tick rates of local clocks. A magma chamber under a volcano that is filling with lava slows down the time of a local clock relative to a reference clock further away. The dominant effect that can be monitored with clocks is ground uplift or subsistence.   The best optical atomic clocks are sensitive to a vertical displacement of about 1 cm after about 7 hours of integration.  
How can clocks be connected? Like computers...
The most reliable and precise means to connect clocks is through fiber links like the ones used for Internet. They are capable of  disseminating frequencies over thousands of kilometers with a stability beyond that of the best available clock. Over distances of a few kilometers, optical atomic clocks can  communicate via optical links, which are primarily developed for wireless internet.

Comparison to prior work
In this paper, we consider dynamic sources (volcanoes) that cause both uplift/subsistence of the ground and mass redistribution underground. 

In the past, we argued that atomic clocks provide the most direct local measurements of the geoid,  which is the equipotential surface that extends the mean sea level to continents, and in clock language, it is the surface of constant clock tick rate.  Portable clocks provide variable spatial resolution and could add detail to satellite maps. Optical ground clock networks could also be used to calibrate these maps, which suffer from attenuation of the gravitational field at the location of the satellite and from aliasing errors due to effects that change the geoid faster than the sampling rate of the mission. Further, the tick rate of a portable clock would slow down when passing over an oil deposit (or over water, which has similar density to oil, but water reservoirs have different shapes).

Optical vs microwave atomic clocks
 Optical clocks use atomic transitions in the spectrum of visible light whose resonant linewidth is about 100, 000 times narrower than the microwave transitions. It’s like having a ruler with lines every cm versus one with lines every km; only it is used to measure time instead of distance. Optical clocks are still laboratory device. However, portable prototypes have been developed, and with enough interest and investment from industry, optical clocks could become field devices in a few years.

Clocks vs. GPS
GPS data often has to be integrated for years before providing a reliable estimate for the ground uplift and for the volume of new magma. Better timing resolution could enable the correlation of ground uplift or subsistence to events e.g., an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. Since the primary source of noise in GPS measurements is due to signal dispersion through the atmosphere, both differential GPS and post-processed GPS data perform better if networks are dense because many artefacts cancel across networks over which the ionosphere and troposphere can be assumed to be constant. GPS is sometimes able to measure vertical displacements of 1 cm over short timescales (hours) if the displacement is very localized in the network and/or the frequency of motion is different from the frequency of various artefacts that impact GPS accuracy. Ground clocks do not suffer from the same errors.

The atomic second and the atomic meter
Atomic clocks have been widely used on Earth for past 50 years - long before everyone had a GPS, which does not contain a clock, but something called a GPS receiver that receives signals from clocks in space.  Microwave atomic clocks are still used to define both the meter and the second. Since 1967 the second is "the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of radiation corresponding to the transition between two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the Caesium 133 atom".  The meter is defined in terms of the atomic second as "the length of the path traveled by light in vacuum during the time interval of 1/299792458 of a second" by fixing the speed of light. So, atomic clocks on the ground keep track of time on Earth and define our units for both time and distance. Eventually, our time keepers will have to be updated to optical clocks, which are more precise. However, this entails the understanding and modeling of vertical displacements, of the solid Earth tide, and, overall, of the geoid on a global level to a precision better than that of the clocks used, which is non-trivial.

Note: The short video is schematic. In realistic volcanoes, magma chambers are never entirely empty to begin with. Also, the slow down of the clock is severely exaggerated. The videos were developed by Thomas Gauninger in collaboration with myself and Mihai Bondarescu.

Ruxandra Bondarescu, Andreas Schärer, Andrew P. Lundgren, György Hetényi, Nicolas Houlié, Philippe Jetzer, and Mihai Bondarescu, “Atomic Clocks as a Tool to Monitor Vertical Surface Motion”, Express letter in the Geophysical Journal International, in Press, arXiv:1506.02457. 

See also the ICNFP 2014 conference proceeding.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

grandma: later years & us

My parents and my grandparents
Grandma and Grandpa stayed with us so that mother could be free to work. I loved both my grandparents very much, but I loved grandma most of all. When I was growing up, I was convinced that she was the bravest and strongest person in the whole universe. My worst nightmare was losing her. It was a version of the little match girl with me as the protagonist. I was cold, grandma was gone, and I had to live without her (while my attachment to grandma was perhaps similar to that of the little girl in the story, I did have a loving family.)

After finishing her residency in Bucharest, mother started work in Alexandria, the capital of Teleorman county. Teleorman is a word of cumanic orgin that literally means the tick, shadowy forest or the mad forest (padurea nebuna). Both my brother, Mihai, and I were born in Alexandria. When he was young, grandpa spent some time working in Teleorman as a forest engineer. As he drove back with my parents, he recognized some of the forests he had planted, and measured the circumference of the trees to check how much they grew.  Tanti Luisa, a family friend who was a professor of art at the university in Bucharest, was inspired by the forests in Teleorman to paint a bridge that went from one forest to another with no inhabitants in sight, and gifted the painting to my mother (see picture below). The other painting next to Mihai and the grey kitten is also by Tanti Luisa. It represents the galaxy with what appears to be a black hole at its center with stars orbiting around it. It had been painted at Mihai's request. He was about 7 at the time (in the picture he is in highschool; we took it to prove to tanti Luisa that we still had her paintings).

Mihai with Tanti Luisa's paintings & our kittens
Grandma, me and Mother & Tusa Tavi (up the steps)
Our four bedroom apartment was on the 3rd floor of a building on Danube Street.   The apartment building had no elevator. Grandma would go up and down the stairs several times a day - often while lifting a stroller, one of us and a heavy bag with vegetables and other purchases. I still find it hard to imagine how she managed. She was 70 when I was born. Grandpa, who was 8 years older than her and had a shorter leg, could not help by carrying things, but instead read, talked and played with us. My mother hired a neighbor to do the standing in-line for milk and bread. The summers were spent in Lugoj, where my grandparents and Tusa Tavi had a beautiful house with a garden. Tusa Tavi (Octavia)  was grandpa's youngest sister and our great aunt. She did not have any children of her own and instead loved us like she would have loved her own grandchildren.


Grandma, Tanti Keti, Mihai, Tusa Tavi & Grandpa
Grandma and grandpa loved my mother and us more than they loved their own comfort. This is perhaps even more rare today. There were a few accidents, but even through those grandma remained strong. When Mihai was one year old, grandma fell on the stairs and broke her leg. It healed in a month. When father had to cut her cast open, Mihai failed to understand the procedure, and cried and begged him not to cut grandma's leg off.

My first memories revolve around her and grandpa. When grandma was cooking, Mihai and I would often sit on Grandpa's shoulders, throw his hat off, and play with the little hair he had left. In the beginning, he could walk with us on his shoulders through the living room. As we grew bigger and he grew older, he could only stand on the bed with us. He also enjoyed reading from the encyclopedia, and teaching us poems that often involved words that sounded similar, but had very different meanings that could be understood from the context of each verse. I only remember two of the poems he taught us. These did not involve homonyms - although, he must have insisted on them the most. One explained that we should drink only water and avoid alcohol and the other that smoking was bad.

"Bautura cea mai buna este apa de izvor
Ea este limpede mereu
O beau cerbi si caprioare
De ea capul nu te doare
 Nici nu lasa trupul greu"

(Credit: "Apa" de George Cosbuc; lousy translation: "Cold spring water is best/It is always clear/Deer drink it/It does not make the head hurt/Neither does it make the body heavy"). It also has two extra lines that encourage children to leave wine to their elders, but enforces that water is the best drink for everyone. The other poem explained that smoke comes from the chimney, and the chimney feels fine. Yet when people smoke, it hurts their lungs and causes chest pains.

"Cosul casei scoate fum
Si ma doare de tutun
Ici in cosul pieptului"

If there was a person near us in the train who was smoking, we would corner them and embarrass our parents by dutifully saying the relevant poem. Mother would quickly apologize for our interference, but we were proud of the effect we had. Some people would stop smoking temporarily, and some would even promise to try to quit altogether. We also knew about passive smoking, and explained that they were hurting us and other passengers through their choices. Grandpa left Alexandria when I was three. We only saw him in vacations for next three years. He was, however, very successful with this aspect of our education. Neither Mihai nor I smoke or drink alcohol. I  drink socially when I have to (once or twice a year), but I've never been drunk and I've never drank enough to get a headache. We were not curious about other drugs either.

The communist era was known for the many restrictions imposed on the population. My father installed three rows of glass at each window to keep the apartment warm. The power was on only part of the day to limit consumption and the heating was never on for long either. Hot water was only available once every two weeks on Thursday.  The TV was on for two hours each day, but then it would mostly show Ceausescu, who could not speak correctly. Mihai always noticed his mistakes, which was considered a crime. Mother explained that we could not mention that he was wrong to anyone else because this would send her and our father to prison. The car could only be used in odd days of the week.  The line for gas was always enormous. People would fill their car with as many recipients as they could fit in their trunk. Our car was mostly used to drive to Lugoj - where my grandparents' house was. For local trips we had bikes. I would ride on my father's bike, while my mom and Mihai rode alone.

In the pine tree forest
We loved the forests. Other than grandpa's forest, there was The Forest of The Chicken. It was named so because we had lost a chicken there. The chicken was a present from a family friend with a farm. Her legs were tied up. A few kilometers after leaving the farm, my father stopped the car and opened the trunk to see how the chicken was doing and offer her water. Instead, the chicken flew away so fast that we could not catch her. To prevent crying, mother convinced us that the chick became a successful wild hen and lived a happy life in her own forest. She was certainly spunky enough to escape us.

Then there was The Forest of The Fox. There we had found a fox burrow. It had many entrances and lots of bones around it from the fox's many meals. We each waited at a different entrance hoping to see the fox, but she decided to stay hidden even after my father tried to smoke her out.

There was also The Pine Tree Forest, which was planted around the time Mihai was born, and grew with us (see picture with us in the pine trees). I thought it was the most beautiful forest of all: full of live-Christmas trees.

Since mother often had to work at nights, Mihai and I slept in the same room as grandma. I shared her bed, and Mihai had an extensible armchair. Every evening she would bring us hot milk, and put it under our pillow in a special bottle.   I loved going to bed. It was a delight to discover the milk and drink it in the perfectly positioned blanket, and then to listen to grandma's stories. She would remember whole books by heart after reading them only once. So,  she would often turn off the light and tell us all the stories she remembered until we fell asleep. They sometimes ended with the ultimate attempt to keep us quiet: "mata moarta pe sub poarta; cine-o vorbi acum s-o roada de la cap si pana la coada" ("dead cat under the gate; the one who speaks will eat it now; he'll start at the head and end with the tail" - in Romanian it rhymes).

I did not spend much time in kindergarten.  Grandma would take me to kindergarten only after I woke up (after 10), and would pick me up some time before noon. The teachers said that I showed up rarely, and when I was there, I always arrived late and left early.  Although it was true, I remember my feelings were hurt whenever my poor attendance was mentioned.   I once asked why we (the children) were called "soimii patriei" (the falcons of the country).  My question was answered with a story of a little boy who betrayed his own mother to the special police because she spoke against the communist party. The special police arrested the mother. The father was also a traitor, and did not love the communist party. When they took his wife away, instead of feeling happy because the party got rid of a traitor, he became so upset that he threw the child off the balcony. The child thus became a hero and flew like a falcon (soim) to his death. In his honor and as a tribute to his bravery, children of similar age attending kindergarten all over the country were named "soimii patriei". Kindergarten gave children the unique opportunity to report any lack of loyalty that they saw in their own home to representatives of the party. Just like the little boy in the story, children were expected to be faithful to the party and the president above all else. Retrospectively, I do not believe the name could have been based on such a horrid story. However, the story impressed me enough that I could not forget it.

 School was different. We had good textbooks that had been translated from Russian. The text was short and to the point. We learned to read and write well and to solve math problems. I liked school, but Mihai told me that school was bad because it forced children to do things against their will. He also said that we were entitled to go to school later, but our parents insisted that we start early (at age six instead of seven) without asking our opinion, and so we had the right to revolt against the twice-perpetuated injustice. I teased Mihai about this when he won the Heraeus prize for being the youngest graduate in Germany. But at the time, I took everything my older brother said as God given. I bravely kept my side of the protest and cried when grandma would take me to school. She would respond by telling me the story of another child who made a fuss while walking diligently in the direction of the school building. When we finally got there,  I would beg grandma to stay in class with me.  She always sneaked out later on, and when I close my eyes, I can still feel the disappointment of finding her gone. I also remember that my food was plain relative to that of other children. I was not allowed to have fried bread with egg or bread with bacon. My sandwiches at school were simply made from two pieces of bread with a very thin layer of butter on one side. Sometimes she added very small pieces of cheese if we had cheese or rarely some tiny pieces of meat.  I later learned to appreciate her moderation and strong common sense.

My mother had been trying to move close to Lugoj, where my grandparents had a house with a garden, for many years. Finally, just after I turned six my father received the approval to relocate to Timisoara.  Mihai and I danced around the telephone after he told us the news. Around the same time one of my mother's colleagues was arrested for making a political joke over a game of cards. My mother had to cover his hours, while his children and wife hoped that he would be allowed to return home. He was tortured for months. He was released around the time the revolution started. He did not remember how to speak, and did not know his wife or children. He could only say three words: "I am guilty"  - without knowing what he was guilty of.   My mother sent us to live with our grandparents in Lugoj while she tried to obtain the right to enter the workforce in the Timis county. She received this permission in 1990 - right after the revolution.

We loved Lugoj. We felt independent and very happy there. My grandparents and Tusa Tavi owned a beautiful Victorian house with high ceilings. It had its own wood-based heating system. Grandpa would chop the wood into smaller pieces to prepare it for the fire. We carried it upstairs. Mihai also learned how to chop the wood himself. The ax still is his favorite tool for all repairs around the house. We had our own plot of land in the garden, where grandma and Tusa Tavi encouraged us to plant all the seeds we wanted. The pits of most of the fruits we ate were planted on top of each other there. We kept track of all the baby trees that grew in the garden, and did not allow any of them to be cut. We would also bring willow tree branches from the Timis river,  put them in water to grow roots, and plant them in the garden or in the yard close to the flower beds.

My grandparents had 4 to 5 chickens who laid eggs. A large part of my childhood was spent following them around. I quickly learned that each egg had a different shape, size and color, and each chicken a different personality. My best friend was a chicken called Zaparsta. I remember having long discussions with her. She grew into a white, fat hen with short, bent legs who ate everything. This thrilled me because I would mix various herbs and flowers and feed them to her. I did not play with dolls because Mihai told me they were like dead children. Zaparsta, however, was very alive. Neighbors would comment on why we did not keep a prettier, more colorful pet, but I loved her just the way she was and found her more amazing than any doll because she responded to my attentions. She also did not move much, and so we could leave her in the garden without worrying about her ruining the vegetables.

Zaparsta died a few years later on my birthday. To cheer us up, mother performed her autopsy. She explained that it was important to determine whether there was a contagious disease among the chickens. After opening up Zaparsta, we found an accumulation of fluid that was bigger than an egg in her abdomen. Mother explained that this is called ascites, and it is a common problem in cirrhosis when the liver fails. Zaparsta's only chance at life would have been a liver transplant. This was not an option for a chicken/hen (or people) at the time.

Every day grandma would wake up at 5 a.m.  She would then walk to the milk factory at the corner of the street, and wait in line until the milk came at 6. There she would hear the local news and various gossip. The milk she bought was poured into our own bottles and brought home long before Mihai or I woke up. It was always boiled to last longer. Grandma would bring us a cup of milk in bed, which was accompanied by a piece of bread with something on it, and then persuade us to get dressed.  There was no fire overnight and so she considered it easier if she dressed us in bed because the room was cold in the morning. Our typical complaints were "please, another five minutes" or "the milk is too hot". To deal with the latter complaint she learned to bring an extra cup and switch the milk between cups until it cooled a little more (at first she tried going all the way to the kitchen to cool the milk down, but this was deemed too inefficient to get us to school in time). Once we were finally fed, combed and dressed, we would dash out the door saying "why did you not wake me up earlier?" (instead of thank you) and often run all the way to school. When I beg Edward or David to get dressed, I try to remember what grandma went through with Mihai and me.

I was the last generation of school children to become "pioneers". I was very proud of my red cravat and black skirt because I thought it was pretty. It had also meant that I was among the top students in my school. The others never became pioneers because of the revolution. The protests began in Timisoara in mid December 1989. I was 7 and Mihai was 10. We were both living with our grandparents at the time. Mother called from Alexandria and asked how the weather was. She really meant to find out about the political situation, but she was afraid to ask directly because it was common knowledge that all phone lines were tapped. Political conversations were thus encoded to avoid prosecution, but the encoding was often done without a prior agreement. Grandma took the question literally and answered that it was raining heavily and there were thunderstorms. It was a rainy December.  Mother's anxiety increased further when she met a colleague who was part of the local communist leadership. He told her that the plan was to wipe Timisoara off the face of the Earth. Lugoj was 60 kilometers away. My father was working in Timisoara, but she first worried about us. So, she took the next train to Lugoj. The train station was full of people without luggage, who were gathering to protest. We were thrilled to see her, and very excited to help her block all windows with wood panels. However, the protests in Lugoj turned out to be largely peaceful: store windows were broken and two people were shot dead.

Grandma was the first to go downtown to evaluate the situation. She came back with two loafs of bread and told us that the protesters she met were a toothless old lady and a three year old child who were both stamping their feet and screaming of the top of their lungs "Jos Ceausescu!" (Down with Ceausescu). She did not find them in any way threatening.  And, yes, there had been some vandals who had broken the windows of the main stores, but Ceausecu's regime was careful to keep stores empty. So, not much was stolen. On the 22nd of December 1989 Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were captured. They had a mock trial on Christmas day. Since it was a major historic event, we were allowed to watch it.  It aired at 1 a.m. All his requests including his right to defend himself in front of the people (adunarea nationala) were  ignored, and both he and his wife were summarily executed. Nobody doubted that he was guilty, but he still should have been given a real, fair trial. Their execution replaced the nativity movie, which was usually aired over the Xmas period. The next day father called and asked my mother to bring him civilian clothes. So, mother left immediately for Timisoara.

After Ceausescu's death the revolution continued in both Timisoara and Bucharest until the new regime settled. The schools remained closed for months. Father was not allowed to leave the hospital in all this period.  As a military doctor, he received a gun and used it to arrest a number of terrorists who were shooting the protesters on the street. They were, however, released a few days later by his superiors. An officer who tried to report such crimes was murdered a day after my father signed his release from the hospital. He had mentioned being afraid for his life. A reporter who attempted to document the revolution asked father for a written statement. Father told him about us. He said he had two young children and wanted to live to watch them grow. The reporter was found dead two weeks later. 

Mother crossed the city to apply for the transfer to the Timis county during the revolution. On January 3rd 1990,  she was offered a position in Recas, a village near Lugoj.  She next participated in a nationwide contest where she was placed second. She could then choose a position in Timisoara. We moved with her there. Grandma stayed with us during the two school years that followed. It was easier to be closer to Lugoj, but she still fell once and broke her right arm when crossing the railways. We all practiced left-handed writing for a month. When I turned ten, she deemed me old enough to be alone when mother was working. She thus returned to Lugoj to care for grandpa.

Grandma and Grandpa
A year later grandpa had his first stroke, which left him bedridden. He had just turned 89. The neighbors lamented that it would have been easier if he had simply died. I asked grandma if she thought the same thing. She strongly disagreed. Her style was to fight until the end. Under her outstanding care, grandpa recovered and started to walk and talk again.  He lived for another six months. The week before he died he gathered the family around him. He told us that he was sorry he had to leave. He kissed grandma's hand and forehead, thanked her, and told her that he loved her more than it could ever be put into words.  Grandma waved him away, and insisted he should stop talking nonsense. He told my mother he was sorry to leave her fatherless, and asked her to always take care of our father. It was one of the few times I saw him cry. He also said that we should never be afraid of him. If there was some form of life beyond the grave, he'll love us from beyond and only try to help.

When we came back next weekend after school, grandpa was in a coma. He had had a second stroke. I was 11 and Mihai was 14. We called mother and explained the situation. He died in Mihai's arms with grandma by his side when Tusa Tavi and I went to the kitchen to get something to eat. Grandma joked that he chose that moment to protect his little sister and the youngest child in the house.  Tanti Keti (long term family friend and neighbor) and grandma washed him and dressed him in his best suit. I put a flower in his chest pocket and helped with the final arrangements. Not knowing that he had already died, mother drove to Lugoj through the dark, stormy night as fast as she could. As she entered the living room, grandpa's face relaxed into a smile, and stayed like this for the next day. It hurt when the undertakers entered and asked "where is the dead body?". I wanted to answer back that he still deserved respect, but I did not.

Grandpa loved horses, and for his funeral my mother arranged for a carriage pulled by a team of beautiful, black horses. The funeral was on February 24. It was such an unusually warm and sunny day that we could wear short sleeves. As we walked behind the funeral cortege, grandma worried about us. She said that we should ignore customs: we were not to touch the earth from the family tomb. Her son was buried there. He had died of polio, and she did not know if it could still be contagious. We had been vaccinated, but she still thought it was best not to be exposed.

Last dance: me, grandma and Mihai
Grandma lived for eight more years, which was the age difference between her and grandpa. When I left home to study in the US, she cried as she told me I was going to a world dominated by men, where I would have to be as strong as a man or stronger, and that it was going to be very, very hard. I laughed, and joked that she should not worry because she raised me well. She explained that she tried to compete with the best men of her time, too, and that it is hard to be strong - she had felt so alone throughout most of her life and career and yet she had always been surrounded by people. She had been there for me up to then and was sorry that she was dying or she would come with me to help.

I did not see her again. She did write a few words on a postcard saying that she missed me so much that it hurt. She died 8 months after I left home. Tanti Keti had stomach cancer and passed away six months before grandma. She had already been sick when I left home. I remember grandma saying that she would give her all the days she had left if she only could.
Last time together: me, grandma, Tusa Tavi, Tanti Keti & Mihai

My mother told me that grandma was brave until the end. When the priest came to read her the last rites, she asked if she should get up. She did not want to offend by lying down. Grandma had the clearest and most beautiful mind I know. But close to the end she had a few moments when she was not quite there. It was then that she saw her father come with his carriage and their horses to pick her up. She was laughing, and seemed young and carefree again, and so happy and excited at the thought of going with him.

I once asked my mother if I will ever love anyone else as much as I loved her, grandma and Mihai. Her answer was that she did not know if I will find a husband to love quite so much, but she was certain I will love my children more.

My last dream of grandma was at Lugoj. I dreamed that house felt lived in again and was like it had been when we were young. Grandma was surrounded by all our pets: the chicken who had lived with us, the dogs, the cats, and Ciupi (the sheep). She told me that she and the animals had remained there to continue to look after us. She then said that she was proud of me and of Mihai, but that we did not need her any more. When I complained that we will always need her, she showed me pictures in the air of other children. She said that there were many she had to take care of, and that in every one of them there was a little piece of her. Then grandma and all the animals became transparent and lifted to the sky, and the house returned to its current state - it became neglected and full of dust again.

1. Grandma had never considered her life a drama. It was, instead, a life well lived in which she did her best at every turn up to the end. 

2.  I know that this post is hard to follow and far from well written. It is what/how I have time to write right now. I will try to write more when I can. The main goal would be to have these stories there for the next generation of children.