So I arrived back in Germany on Sunday morning. I had a great time in the US where I finished two projects at Duke: I investigated Super-K's capabilities to detect supernovae (with special regard to correlation with a Gravitational Wave signal), and I investigated whether and under which circumstances a supernova location can be determined from neutrino oscillation in Earth matter. There is a report for the former and a paper (my first \o/) for the second. I learned about and used the ROOT data analysis toolkit for these. It's very powerful, but also very ugly API-wise.
I also travelled a bit. Major visits include the Great Smokies, Kitty Hawk at the Outer Banks, Raleigh, Norfolk, Washington D.C and Pleasure Island/Wilmington. Until I find a good place to put the photos on (I tried flickr, though I probably need to resize the pictures and make a selection to get things up there in one month or two because of the 100MB/month limit, and I'm also not sure how this 200 Pictures/Photostream limitation actually works) you can also have a look at somealbums of Ruggero Golini who, amogst others, accompanied me on some of the trips.
Looking forward, my seventh semester at the KIT (formerly Universität Karlsruhe) has begun. I take courses on statistics and data analysis, experimental particle physics and cosmology. Luckily there was nothing on Monday so I could recover from jetlag. Being in the US also meant I was not able to take any exams at that time but I'm still pretty confident I can take all three remaining exams (Experimental physics, Theoretical physics and another more specialized physical major) during the next 10 or so months so I can start with my diploma thesis in Fall 2010.
I am at Duke for more than a month now. Things turn out to be fun. My work still involves a lot of programming, mostly even using free software. The difference, however, is what it is for. This is not about making life more convenient for computer users, but about creating new knowledge. This is a huge source of motivation for me. I think the last time I had a similar commitment was when I was figuring out how to do Undo/Redo properly in Gobby. In contrast, I just can't get into "man-made" problems such as economy or law; this somehow feels articifal to me. The actual project I am working on is still secret, though. I hope I can say more about this in a month or two.
My impressions of America, or at least the part of it that I have seen so far, are somewhat twofold. On the one hand there are inconveniencies such as prices always shown without tax, no timetables at most bus stops (interesting problem here btw - given a frequency f a bus runs a certain route and a time interval Δt you save by taking the bus instead of walking, how long do you wait at the bus stop before starting to walk when you don't know the exact time the bus arrives?), getting charged for incoming calls and text messages and food being more expensive than in Europe generally. On the other hand, however, I like the way of living of the people here (In Germany, I have yet to be asked whether I need a ride when waiting at a bus stop), and I like the landscape very much, including the huge Duke campus, and how green everything is when you look around. This comes with the price that without a car you are pretty much screwed if you want to go anywhere. Public transportation is available, but not until late in the night, and further limited on Sundays. Fortunately, car rental is somewhat affordable when you are enough people to split the costs. As a non-alcoholic I could also get used to the fact that there is mostly no alcohol in public places, and that other drinks are much cheaper than beer or whatever.
Despite all, I have not given up on other software development. I have not done too much on Libinfinity/Gobby recently (it's a bit sad that I am still the only person working on it, despite many offers to help on the mailing list - but all these people disappeared soon afterwards. Maybe I should try Jono's book to find out whether I am doing something fundamentally wrong in that regard...). However, I worked a bit more than usual on Clonk recently (which became FLOSS a while ago btw, as the OpenClonk project). I spent some time on realtime 3D model rendering. This allows much smoother animations, and transitions inbetwen them (bone system is already implemented, but only in software for now). Support is far from complete, but it is usable already (see the mesh branch in the repos).