Sunday, April 13, 2014


Edward in front of my grandparent's home in Lugoj
Every time I visit Romania I wonder how it would feel to be back there on a forever basis. I miss the many neighbours and friends to rely on at any time of the day who also appear to care for me and for my family. This is something that cannot be found easily in the busy country realm: Switzerland, Germany, the US, etc.  This may be because the car and whatever appliances exist in the house work, and one does not need to rely on neighbours.  When things don't work there are specialised companies to deal with the problems.  There are many positive aspects to this independence, but I miss knowing my neighbours and the people around me better and counting them among my friends. I have many acquaintances, but I seem to have fewer and fewer friends as I get older. I am 31 now. I worry what will happen when I'll be 71 if I make it to that age. I am going to Romania for Easter, and I miss the feeling of belonging somewhere even more in periods of holidays.

 my great aunt, me, and my friends in highschool
It is strange to find myself homesick. I am angry at myself for daring to feel like that. I left Romania at 18, and my place there has long out-grown me. My father is still there, but my best friends from highschool are abroad, and many family friends were either retired or on the brink of retirement when I was growing up and have now long been dead. I go back to the same house with the same things, but almost no people to fill it. My real home has been planet Earth for the past 13 years or so and I did find many very kind people wherever I went. Also, I should not be too harsh on my neighbours in Switzerland because most of them are immigrants who work to send money to their families back home, wherever home is for them. They are not locals who are comfortable in German and happy to do small talk. Furthermore, my German is awful, and even so we do have a neighbour, who for the past year+, has brought us sweets and vegetables from the garden when there are any. Two other neighbours jumpstarted my car when I forgot the lights on, and managed to explain that to them through sign language plus a few words of German. But somehow we still feel very isolated because the gossip, the friendship and the warmth of our current and former neighbours from Romania is not there.

 with Tanti Mia & Domnul Costel
The only way I see myself back in Romania forever is if I was unemployed or close to unemployed and worried more about the property my family and I own there. If I go back, I will not be employed in the academia since the universities in Romania have no wish to hire me (I did ask), which is a bit funny, but I understand them. I understand that they are afraid of people who have a different educational background and hence a different view of life from the locals because they cannot control us as easily. Close to 100% of all professors in Easter Europe received their PhD either from their university or more rarely from another university in the same country (preferring their own graduates is quite common in Switzerland and also in other parts of Europe and even in the poorer states of the US), and while some have publications, their publications have a low number of citations and close to zero impact. This locality is, of course, also favoured by the language barrier - i.e., each country teaches mostly in its own language and not in English - although, they do have some sections where they teach in English and they also have courses in English at Masters level, they still prefer their own people. The salaries are also not large enough to easily attract outsiders. Of course, I have not forgotten Romanian, but the bias extends beyond the language. The hiring committees are not used to choosing people they do not know and have not seen on a daily basis. Among the Eastern European countries most research seems to be done in Poland, and I have no intention of moving there (or anywhere else at the moment).

with Mari in Clopodia
Irrespective of my marketability in Romania or of any other jobs in the world, part of me wishes to be unemployed and to be free.  I know it is very silly, but I would like to spend the summers, late spring, and early fall in Romania and then winter in a warm place on the Equator.  I am not good at cooking or cleaning and so I never imagine myself a home-maker. I think I'll always have to have things to do, and I am confident I would find many interests even without official employment. On the other hand, I am afraid of feeling even more trapped, of being unemployed and of having no power. Also, it helps to have a salary, a home and a good school nearby to which my children can go to. Maybe some day I will have the courage to commit to a more nomadic life-style and start writing books of some kind. However, I am not sure when I'll have the courage to try something like that or that whatever I write will be good enough to sell and to have an impact on the world.

David and Mihai in Martinique
Growing up my brother and I were reading a lot about the turtles in Galapagos and about the richness in the flora and fauna there.  So, naturally, we were dreaming to move there. I have since thought it would be wonderful to live on the Equator and never be cold again. However, 20some years later I have not even visited the Galapagos Islands. Somehow there was never time for vacation that was not combined with work, and I have yet to find something I can study in the Galapagos Islands given my background. I am an astrophysicist who has also worked on the applications of general relativity to geophysics. In the meantime, the picture of David and Mihai on the right gives you a glimpse of how part of my family will look like if we spent most of our time on a tropical island gathering coconuts.

Andy, Edward and I in Martinique
Edward and Andy
In a few months we have to move from our rented Swiss home because the owners plan to renovate it, and so my son has been saying we should move to Martinique. Whenever I worry about results of my job applications, he suggests that if the Swiss don't want me we should move to the Equator. It seems a natural choice for him because he enjoys playing in the sand & swimming, and he does not see anything else to be of equal importance. However, having the same dream now as when I was three makes me feel guilty and immature. Yet, I wonder if this desire to work more and more, and acquire more poorly managed possessions in various countries around the world is even more wrong. The desire to work & acquire things comes from a sense of (1) duty towards a combination of my employers, the world or the societies that helped raise me (I don't consider I have a duty that lies with a specific country, but with humanity & planet Earth), my current and future family, (2) vanity/pride/ego and (3) a sense of fear for the future that we all feel. But is it a weakness? Shouldn't people be able stop when they have enough to live on and enjoy what they have?

P.S. The whole homesickness thing makes me think of the book I just read to my son - it's called Apolodor. It is a long poem about a cute penguin by Gellu Naum. My mom used to read it to me & my brother when we were little, and now Edward enjoys it, too. Unfortunately, it's in Romanian and the one translation I found was fairly poor.

"La circ, in Targul Mosilor,
 Pe gheata unui racitor,
 Traia voios si zambitor
 Un pinguin din Labrador.
 -Cum se numea?-Apolodor.
 -Si ce facea?-Canta la cor.
 Deci, nu era nici scamator,
 Nici acrobat, nici dansator;
 Facea si el ce-i mai usor:
 Canta la cor. Era tenor.
 Grasut, curat, atragator
 In fracul lui stralucitor
 Asa era Apolodor.
 Dar intr-o zi Apolodor,
 Spre deznadejdea tuturor
 A spus asa:-Sunt foaaarte trist!
 Imi place viata de corist
 Dar ce sa fac? Mi-e dor, mi-e dor
 De fratii mei din Labrador!
 O, de-as putea un ceas macar
 sa stau cu ei pe un ghetar..."

Very Rough translation by me (which is why it does not rhyme):

"In a circus on cooler ice
Always smiling, always happy
Lived a penguin from Labrador
What was his name? Apolodor
What did he do? He was a tenor.
He was no acrobat. He was no dancer.
His job was the easiest of all.
He happily sang in his shinning black costume.
Clean, engaging, attractive
This was Apolodor.
But one day he said
I am veeeerrrry sad!
I like life as a singer
But what can I do? I miss, I miss
My brothers from the Labrador
Oh... If I could sit on an iceberg
with them at least an hour..."

His friends (a cat, a bear, a porcupine, a rabbit, and a camel) are disappointed by his sadness, and they all offer him what they love best: the cat offers cream, the bear fresh berries, the porcupine needles, and the rabbit salad. None of these help and thus Apolodor is allowed by his circus boss to go to Labrador. So, he travels around the world singing and is amazingly successful as a singer wherever he goes. After many adventures he reaches Labrador where he finds out that his family was on vacation there when he was born and that they really live at the South Pole. After a number of years and more adventures including being thrown into space in a rocket he reaches the South Pole. His family is very happy to see him. However, he soon feels very cold, and starts missing his work as a singer and his friends. So, he leaves the icebergs and travels back to Bucharest to the ice from the cooler and his job at the circus. 

The Yellowstone Super-volcano

The number of Earthquakes at Yellowstone has increased. In March 30,  2014 Yellowstone experienced the largest Earthquakes since 1980 - it had magnitude 4.8, which is not high as far as Earthquakes go. However, the magnitude of the earthquakes that precede volcanic activity does not have to be high.  Information about the volcanic activity at Yellowstone can be found at Yellowstone observatory site. Note that they say that the increase in the number of Earthquakes is not particularly unusual. In the figure on the left the Earthquake count is cumulative, which means it can never go down and it would be constant only if no new Earthquakes occurred.

Increase in uplift
Status updates on the Yellowstone volcano can be found at its USGS site. The ground rises in volcanic areas due to magma activity underground.  Decompressions also happen, meaning the ground level lowers. The level of the ground is measured with GPS receivers and also from images taken via the Interferometric synthetic aperture radar. There was no measurable deformation associated with the March 30 earthquake. However, the GPS data has to be integrated over periods of a year or so to reach cm accuracies. They say the caldera has been rising at a rate of 2 cm/year, and that one of their ground stations has moved 5.5 cm up since April 2013. There are also movements of a few cm East and North. (I have also read that there are places where the ground has risen as much as 25 cm, but I still have to find a reliable reference for that.)
The Yellowstone Caldera. Image from

Increase monitoring via atomic clocks?
Atomic clocks can provide local measurements of the geoid over at cm level periods of a 7 hours. This is superior to the yearly measurements by GPS and in the future, atomic clock measurements might help in understanding the correlation between Earthquake and volcanic activity. However, the best clocks to date are still laboratory devices that are not yet ready for field work.

Animals leave the mountain?
There are movies youtube with bisons leaving Yellowstone. However, it is said that the migration pattern is not unusual (e.g, the animals have always come down the mountain when the food was scarce), and that the coincidence with the increase in Earthquake activity is just a coincidence. Apparently the bisons come down the mountain to scratch themselves on fire hydrants and buildings. It would seem a dangerous and pointless adventure to me if I was a bison and there were trees around, but then I am not a bison or an expert in bison behaviour.

When was the last time the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupted?
The largest large eruption of Yellowstone occurred some 650, 000 years ago. A smaller eruption happened about 70, 000 years ago.

What are the potentials of an Yellowstone eruption?
A super-eruption would be very dangerous. Besides destroying a good fraction of the US, it could induce a mini ice age lasting for a few hundred years that would change life on Earth as we know it.

Which man-made activity could increase the Earthquake count?
Hydraulic fracturing is a relatively new method that the US has been using to extract natural gas & oil. It involves fracturing the rock by injecting water at high pressure to reach the gas reserves. For maps that show were hydraulic fracturing is done in the US see: They come fairly close to Yellowstone.