Thursday, March 17, 2011

My day with a Mustang

I arrived at Eugene, Oregon late in the evening. Tired after traveling for almost 24 hours from Geneva, I just wanted to pick up the rental car quickly, find the hotel and crash. So when she offered me a free upgrade to a SUV, I politely declined, I had no intention of driving a gas-guzzling beast for no good reason. But I could not say no when she offered me a Mustang next. I just made sure it was not red, and luckily it was shiny silver.

I have never driven a Mustang before. In fact, coming to think of it, the fanciest car I have driven before was Toyota Prius. No matter how ugly it is, I loved how it did almost 50 miles a gallon. But Mustang was different animal altogether. It has this sexy look, and the pickup was super smooth. That actually got me worried, since I knew I will end up speeding without even realizing it.

A quick day trip to Corvallis was all that was planned. That would not have done justice to this creature, so we decided to drive upto Mary's peak, a nearby vista-point. The drive started off quiet innocuously, and soon we were going up the hill on narrow winding road. Some patches of snow materialized n the sides, nothing to perturb us. We kept going. And then, before we could start looking for a corner to turn around, we got stuck in snow. The wheels would keep rotating, without us moving an inch. Thankfully it was not dark yet, but the situation seemed hopeless.

As we tried to assess our options, a pickup truck appeared from behind. With snow tires and four wheel drive, that ugly car was could go where our sleep beauty could not. They drove repeatedly over the ice, making a track for us to go back down, but in reverse. Going backwards, with almost an out of control car, on a curved road is not fun, and soon enough, I over-steered, getting stuck in the snow again. Out only hope was to somehow get back to the tire tracks again, and roll back another twenty yards or so, where we could tun around. The friends with the truck had left by then, but another good samaritan stepped up. It was his idea to pile up deadwood under the tires to let them have some traction, as I stepped on the gas to move to ever so slightly, and managed to be back on track after three attempts. Physics in action, but a Ph.D in physics does not prepare you for this!

That was enough adventure for the Mustang, before it went back to the airport parking lot.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Swiss Bank Initiation

So I am a proud owner of a Swiss bank account now. After being refused by UBS because of my American passport, I went to the postoffice next door at CERN, and voila they opened an account for me. Now I have been pointed out, rather unkindly, as I may add, that only the poor people in India open bank account in postoffices. However, in Geneva, a lowly postdoc is among the poorest of the society, so I cant really complain.

After signing a simple form saying I am allowing IRS full access to my account, they bright yellow card arrived by mail. Then a password for online banking. Armed with both, I tried login in online, but failed miserably in the first step, and it appeared one of the subsequent one involved using a machine. I went to the ATM, as I thought that would be the closet approximation of what one would mean by a machine, but turned out I need a PIN (which is no the online banking password, fair enough) to do anything at the ATM. Soon enough though, I received the 6 digit PIN. The fun was just beginning though.

Next I received this strange creature in my mail, with a long set of instructions on how to login to my account.

I was given an 7 digit ID number (which is of course neither my account number, nor printed anywhere on the card, and the browser can not be set to remember it) which I have to use to login, using the previously received password. Then the next screen will will spit out a number as , which I have to enter in my device to generate the one time access code. Using the device is not trivial, after inserting the card, I need my PIN (I have not figured a way to change it so far), then only I can enter the first number to generate the second one. Now I am in. I thought may be this was the first time setup, but no, every single login will involve this multistep fun.

They really take their security seriously.