Since it came up in conversation today, I retook the Political Compass test for the first time in many years.

Here is how I scored:

For comparison, I was able to find my results from December 2001, not long after the test debuted. I was wondering how my views have evolved with time. So... how does Nomad v.2015 compare with his past self from thirteen and a half years ago?


Interesting! I'm still lodged quite nicely in the bottom left corner of the compass. This is no surprise. But my economic views have moved even further to the left, nearly maxing out the scale. Meanwhile, my social views have become marginally more authoritarian. In fact, the shift on the two is almost equal in magnitude, if opposite in direction (-1.12 for the economic scale, +1.08 for the social scale).

Politically speaking, my two most signficant events of the past thirteen and a half years would be (a) my time as an activist, and (b) my experience as an expatriate and immigrant.

The December 2001 score was logged just as I was beginning to get active. I've been an Anarchist since at least age 17 (back in 1992), but I was only an activist from 2001 - 2007 -- with peak years from Feb 2002 to May 2006. So that's where I sat just before things ramped up.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that the shift in my social score was affected by answering "agree" with the statement that "First-generation immigrants can never be fully integrated within their new country." Back then, I probably said "Disagree" or "Strongly Disagree". Today, I said "Agree". I presume this question labels one as more socially conservative, as that tends to be the anti-immigrant faction of society. In my case, I'm not at all anti-immigrant -- I am an immigrant! But, being one, I know that I've not been able to fully integrate with my new country. Going from one English-speaking country to another, the transition was easier than most. Even so, I've been in the UK for nearly a decade, I've naturalised, I've taken up the English folk art of church bell ringing, I've seen more of England than most English people I know (and every Shakespeare play)... but I still stand out as a foreigner. Just two words out of my mouth and folks assume I'm "on holiday".

Last week alone, I had one person ask where I was visiting from (at an Oxford museum), another person who presumed I was moving to the States when I said we would soon be leaving Oxford (I'm not -- I'll be going up North to Sheffield), and a third person who spat at me in the street. Yeah, last week. (This week has had none of the above, but that's because I'm in Japan right now...)

So, yeah, not fully integrated yet. I'm seriously considering taking up elocution lessons, just so I can stop standing out like a sore thumb. Most people asking about where I'm visiting from are just being friendly. I don't blame any one person... but you sure get tired of explaining yourself over and over again, several times each week. Nevermind the accent, I'm British, thank you very much.

Anyway, I'm sure this made me seem more "socially conservative" and probably drove much of the shift in score. Although, given the circumstances, I would argue that being an immigrant has made me more aware of what we go through -- not less sensitive to it!

Meanwhile, it's nice to see that I haven't gotten to be more of a conservative right-winger with age!

ETA: Here is how I compare with the UK parties in last month's general election:

Is it any wonder, then, that I joined the Green Party?

Dylann Roof
Elliot Rodger
Adam Lanza
James Holmes
Jared Loughner

Need I continue?

Perhaps we should start a random 'stop and frisk' type screening for white USAmerican males who are roughly between the ages of 16 and 25?[*]

[*] Yes, I know they don't account for all the mass shootings. You've got Seung-Hui Cho (Korean), Wade Michael Page (40), Aaron Alexis (black), and so on. But the list is definitely disproportionately young white men.

Today's Guardian has an article about outrage over a high school maths problem. Seriously?

The question in question was described as "disastrously hard", "especially unfair", and "proving impossible even for the most able students". Really??

I was intrigued, so I had a look at the question. It read:
There are n sweets in a bag. Six of the sweets are orange. The rest of the sweets are yellow. Hannah takes a random sweet from the bag. She eats the sweet. Hannah then takes at random another sweet from the bag. She eats the sweet. The probability that Hannah eats two orange sweets is 1/3. Show that n²-n-90=0.

So... what's the big deal? It's a straightforward and easy question. I solved it in under two minutes. Could have taken half the time, but I set it up carefully, under the impression that it was difficult. Thought perhaps it was a trick question, but it's a rather straightforward bit of elementary probability.

Then I went on to show that n = 10. The question didn't ask for it, but I was curious.

I really hope they let the question stay. It's perfectly fair, and I think it's reasonable to expect children to learn how to think in school.
I'm off to go see a stage production of "The Fully Monty" at the Lyceum Theatre, here in Sheffield.

It amuses me greatly that this is my first theatrical experience in my new city.
anarchist_nomad: (Loch Ness Monster)
( May. 17th, 2015 06:17 pm)
I just wrote a long and detailed post... which LJ promptly ate. Grrrr!

Short version is this: As of today, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad is officially a triathlete!

I completed the Little Beaver Olympic distance triathlon at Belvoir Castle. My times were as follows:

  • Swim: 0:33:24 (1500 meters)
  • T1: 0:05:07
  • Cycle: 2:15:20 (40 kilometers)
  • T2: 0:01:37
  • Run: 0:53:42 (10 kilometers)

  • TOTAL: 3:49:10

These times are about the same as in the practice triathlon that I completed in December, except that there is a 5-6% improvement in my running speed.

Compared to the Chicago 2012 triathlon, for which there is data online, I was faster on swimming (37 m average), running (1h 1m average), and transitions (8m average). However, my running was much slower (1h 22m average) -- more than 50% slower, in fact! (Guess I know where I need to train... and a proper racing bike wouldn't hurt, either!)

My original goal had been to complete an Olympic distance triathlon before I turned 40. I missed that deadline by about 9 weeks... but got there soon after!

On the way, I also set other nifty personal records: In February, I completed the Hampton Court Half-Marathon in 1:46:58 (average pace of 5:04 per km), and last week I completed the Oxford Town & Gown 10K in 47:44 (average pace of 4:46 per km).

My next physical challenge is the Bristol-to-Bath marathon, coming up in October. I'd like to complete it in under 3h 45m.

I would also like to do another Olympic distance triathlon, maybe next year after I've had some time to train up my cycling a bit. I'd like to break the Chicago average of 3h 9m... and I would really like to do an Olympic triathlon in under 3 hours. That involves an improvement of 50 minutes over my current time. My cycling time is 53 minutes longer than average, so just getting to average would do the trick.

I also aim to complete the next major triathlon distance up, which is a "middle distance", or "half-Iron Man". That's 1.93 km of swimming, 90 km of cycling, and then a half-marathon (21.1 km running). I can do the swim and the run now. Need to work on my cycling!

Anyway, it was really satisfying to reach a goal that I've been training towards for the past three years. Huzzah!

And now I'm going to post this, before LJ eats it again...
anarchist_nomad: (Loch Ness Monster)
( Mar. 26th, 2015 08:13 pm)
Nine years ago today, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I arrived in Merry Olde England. It wasn't my first time, having been twice before... but the date is significant because that was when we arrived to make our home here.

Seriously? How has it been nine years?? Still the proof is there -- see for yourself!

I don't have much to say today, given that I've made length entries in each of the past three days[*], but I thought that this was an anniversary worth noting.

We spent the first night in London, so tomorrow will be nine years since the very first time we set foot in Oxford. I still remember the two of us arriving at the train station, four 75 pound suitcases in tow, and not knowing where anything at all was located.

[*] Four consecutive days of LJ entries? Wowza, that's like old times!

Gentle readers,

Ten days ago, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad hit the big FOUR-OH. Wowza -- how did that happen? Seems like only yesterday that I was celebrating my 30th birthday at the Event Horizon!

I firmly believe that if one is going to grow older, one should do it in style. Ten years ago, I resolved to throw the biggest Event Horizon party to date... and I succeeded.[*] For forty, I raised the stakes and decided to make it my absolute bestest birthday ever!

So what does that mean? What are the ingredients for a spectacular birthday?

Well, first is location. I love Oxford, but celebrating at home wasn't going to do. I wanted somewhere that would be warm and sunny in mid-March. No point in partying somewhere cold... and, besides, I wanted to go scuba diving! My first thought was the Mediterranean, possibly Corsica or Sardinia. Maybe Sicily. Then I checked: Average highs of 50F? That won't work!

Further South, then, which brings us to the Canary Islands. Yeah, that could work. Average highs in the mid-70s? Now that's more like it!

A plan began to take form: Rent a large villa in Lanzarote and invite everyone I know to join us there for a week. Although not the largest of the Canary Islands, the volcanic landscape and the César Manrique architecture was highly appealing. What's more, the entire island has been designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

In the end, I didn't end up inviting everybody I knew. We topped out at sixteen people, filling two private holiday villas. That seemed like a wise place to stop; coordinating an international week-long trip with sixteen people from two continents was one heck of a lot of work! Lots of logistics to arrange, including accommodation, transportation, and activities.

Lots of work... but it was totally worth it!

So what did we do in our week on the "Island of Fire" (as Lanzarote is known)? Well, we rode camels over the volcanic landscape:

(click on picture for full version)

and we ate food cooked with geo-thermal heat:

(click on picture for full version)

The picture above was taken at the El Diablo restaurant in Timanfaya National Park. The grill is set over a hole in the ground. That's all. No fire below; the heat of the volcano cooks your food for you!

(Also acts as a nifty underfloor heater, too!)

What else? Well, I got my scuba dives -- two off the coast of Playa Blanca (one day dive and one night dive) and another from Puerto del Carmen. We spent time on the beach at Arrecife, the capital of the island. We also took a bus tour around Timanfaya National Park. On another day, some of us went horseback riding (not me), whilst others took a bicycle tour (me!).

On one afternoon, we chartered a private pleasure cruise for five hours; on a different afternoon, we visited a few of César Manrique's architectural masterpieces. My beloved [ profile] cheshcat lined us up an excellent sampling of his work, including his Volcano House, his Cactus Garden, and the lookout point Mirador del Rio.

Some of us also made time for hiking. I went on three hikes, around the Montaña Caldereta, along the Timanfaya Coastal Route, and a sunset hike on my birthday itself, climbing the red mountain Montaña Roja, which was just behind our villas.

Here is a shot of yours truly atop the Caldereta (a volcanic crater):

(click on picture for full version)

Plus, there was lots of chill out time at the villas. Besides the two heated pools, we had a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room. So it became a regular pattern to go out and be active during the day, then come together for a big meal in the evening -- coordinated by my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth. After dinner, we would soak up the amenities and be social in the evening.

By chance, the folks who went horseback riding ran into a masseuse; she was then hired to come to the villa on two separate days, working on half of our party during that time -- some people used her twice!

The penultimate day of the trip was my actual birthday, March 13th. After days of rushing about, the big day was spent at the villas. Pancake brunch, afternoon tea by the pool (served by [ profile] miss_amaranth in a bikini), and lots of good company!

Was my plan a success? You betcha! As you may recall, dear friends, the goal was to make turning 40 my best birthday ever. Spending a week on a subtropical volcanic island with more than a dozen of my closest friends? Riding camels and scuba diving and eating geo-thermally cooked food? You bet this was the bestest birthday ever![**]

Now then, what can I do to top it for turning 50?

[*] Eventually, as I made more friends in Chicagoland, the regular parties would grow to be larger than that special one... but at the time, my goal was met with 25 people celebrating in a two-day party.

[**] Sixteen hours before I left for this awesometacular holiday, there was one extra development that made it even better. "What might that be?" you may ask. Ah, but that's the subject of my next LJ post...
anarchist_nomad: (Loch Ness Monster)
( Jan. 17th, 2015 11:20 am)
Even after all these years, it looks like LiveJournal can still surprise me!

My previous post, about my passport expiring, garnered more comments than anything I've written in years. More than trips to Taiwan, Spain, Japan, Korea, and so on. More than my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I becoming British.

And this is in these waning days of LJ. Baffling.

I believe this post about probability, from nearly three years ago, was the last time anything I wrote stirred up such a response.

Of course, my most commented on LJ post ever, garnering over 200 responses, had to do with traffic roundabouts. So maybe it's not a failing in my understanding; maybe LJ just really doesn't make much sense.

In any case, the unusual situation described in the previous post -- that of being able to travel to nearly any country in the world except the one of my birth -- has now been resolved.

Twelve days ago, my application for a new US passport was collected by courier. Today, that new passport arrived. Once more, I have two passports and can travel freely where I will. Huzzah!

Also, a hearty shout out to the US Embassy in London. Colour me impressed with them for processing the application so quickly!
anarchist_nomad: (Intrepid explorer)
( Jan. 5th, 2015 11:59 am)
Just over ten years ago, I posted this entry, entitled "Grounded". It starts off by saying:

As of today, I no longer have a valid US passport. As alien as it feels to me, I can no longer leave the [United States].

Ten years on, the passport that I applied for at that time has recently expired. Once again, I no longer have a valid US passport. The weird part is that I can now go to just about any country in the world... except the United States.

My British passport is valid until 2023, and this is the primary passport that I use when travelling these days. However, US citizens are not permitted to enter the United States on a foreign passport. This is true even if they hold multiple citizenships and citizens of their other country (or countries) may travel to the United States without a visa.

The United States does not forbid dual nationalities (like, for instance, Japan), but they don't recognize them, either. To quote from the webpage of the United States Embassy in London:
Under U.S. regulations, dual nationals must enter and leave the United States on valid U.S. passports; they are not eligible to apply for visas or travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.

So I find myself in the strange situation of being able to go anywhere except for the country where I was born and lived most of my life. How odd.

Thankfully, I have no upcoming travel planned for the United States. Next trip, in three weeks, is to Japan, and the one after that will be to Spain.

Meanwhile, the passport renewal application was collected by courier today. I expect the current oddity will be cleared soon with the arrival of my next passport.
Quick update on the USS pensions issue, and the current industrial action by the Universities and College Union (UCU) to protect our pensions:

At last week's meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), the employers have backed off from their plan to push the pension cuts through at this time. The assessment boycott continues, with participants refusing to set exams are mark papers, but it looks like our goal of bringing them back to the negotiating table may have succeeded. Tomorrow, the UCU's Higher Education Committee (HEC) will meet to discuss whether the boycott should be suspended whilst negotiations proceed.

So that is a partial success. However, there are many who think that the union's opening position on negotiating our pensions already gives too much away. It's possible. Thus, there is a call to maintain the industrial action.[*]

For my part, I don't know enough yet to decide on the UCU's opening position. However, the Provost of Imperial College set up a task force earlier in the month, with volunteers from the staff (mainly from the Mathematics Department) coming forward to do their own actuarial assessment of the situation. The final report should have been in last Friday; I am attempting to get a copy so that I can reach an informed conclusion.

Meanwhile, there is a decent summary article in The Guardian here.

There is also an article from the Times Higher Education magazine about Oxford University -- one of the 69 institutions that make up the Universities UK (UUK) group -- coming out against the cuts that UUK is proposing.

Elsewhere, the University of Cambridge has also spoken out against these cuts; privately, the Provost of Imperial College has said that Imperial is also opposed... but Imperial refuses to make a public statement, so I have difficulty taking this seriously. It's a shame, really, because Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial are the top three universities in the UK. If Imperial College would join with the other two, that really presents a strong statement and a united front amongst the employers for not making these draconian cuts.

[*] ETA: It would seem that the results from the Provost's task force are not going to be made public. Thus, I have added my name to the petition to the union leaders, urging them to continue the industrial action and to refrain from giving so much away in the starting position of negotiations.

I will also be at the rally outside the union headquarters tomorrow afternoon, coinciding with the meeting of the Higher Education Committee. Whilst I acknowledge that benefit cuts may be necessary, I am not willing to concede anything without direct evidence of the necessity. Opaque figures cited without explanation (or uncertainty) by biased parties does not come close to constituting such evidence.
I'm writing this entry from the Oxford Tube, making the commute into London. One of the nifty things about this 24-hour bus service is that it has laptop tables, power outlets, and free Wi-Fi. Makes a fairly long commute bearable, by allowing productivity.

Anyway, I tried to respond to the comments on yesterday's entry... only to find that the content blocker on the new buses won't allow me to access my LiveJournal. Hurm.

Tried to access the LJs of others -- no problem. Which means that I'm being blocked specifically because of the "anarchist" in my username. Good grief!

Wonder if I should take issue about this with the bus company. As a regular rider for the past six years (and holder of the £1000 annual bus pass), my words may carry some weight with them. On the other hand, there is a lot going on right now and with only 24 hours in the day, one must choose one's battles; things like the pension action are much more important and a better choice for where to put my energy.

Also, although it is annoying, I can still access my LJ on the coach by using my phone as a hotspot or tether -- like I'm doing right now, to write this entry. So the practical effect of this block for me is basically non-existent.

Even so, tis annoying to be blocked from my own LJ, especially on account of my name.
It's been more years than I care to think about since I've could rightfully call myself an activist. After spending the better part of my 20s involved in Anarchist activism, I trickled off around 2007 for various reasons.

In that time, I did a variety of things, including mass demonstrations, local demonstrations, political prisoner support, copwatching, books to prisoners, food & clothing redistribution, and union organising work. It was always an uphill battle, and we lost more than we won... but it was a good fight, and I'm proud of the role I played, however small.

Now, after years away from anything resembling activism, I appear to be back at it again. Except -- surprise -- this time the union organising is with my own union... and the fight is over my own pension.

The main pension plan in the UK, the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) is under attack, with the 69 universities that support it trying to effectively dismantle the fund and replace it with something far smaller (and cheaper). The Universities & College Union (UCU) isn't taking this lying down, and we've begun to fight back. Starting today, an assessment boycott has begin -- all across the nation, folks are refusing to prepare exams, mark papers, or assess students in any way.

It's not an easy decision, and the students themselves aren't to blame, of course! But the universities need to be made to listen -- and until now, they've refused to even negotiate with us. Fortunately, the National Union of Students supports us -- it's good to know that they can see where we are coming from.

Imperial College has determined to dock 25% pay from anyone who participates in this industrial action, even though student assessment comprises far less than 25% of anyone's time. Other universities -- like York -- are docking 100% pay, and I've heard that there are even good old fashioned lockouts going on at some places. Ah, welcome back to the 19th century!

I do not personally have any assessment responsibilities at present, so I cannot directly participate in the boycott. However, I am in full support of this action. I have been to multiple meetings on this topic in the past couple of days, I plan to donate a fraction of my own salary to the UCU's "Fighting Fund" that will help offset the lost wages of my colleagues, and I have written an appeal for others in my position to do the same. I am also organising a response amongst other research staff in the Physics Department and have been newly recruited to enlist other volunteers on a wider scale within the university.

I have to say: I don't need this right now. I really really don't need this. Without boring folks with details, my life is really chok-a-blok full right now; the extra committments on my time (and finances) is not welcome. Still, I didn't pick this fight, but I'm going to do what I can to help us win it! What else can I do, really? All progress in working conditions has come from people sacrificing their time and resources to further the labour movement. Joe Hill, Utah Phillips, and so many others have done their bit before me. Who I am to shirk my small part?

So, yeah, back in the thick of it again... at least for now. And unlike so many of the broader political battles, I do think this is one that can be won.

So, in the immortal words of Ralph Chaplin:

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong...
Not on LJ much these days, but today needed to be noted:

First. Half. Marathon!

Oh, yeah!

I ran today in the Blenheim Palace Half-Marathon. I deliberately refrained from making any ambitious goals -- the main aim was to just finish the race, running 13.1 miles (or 21.1 km) for the very first time.

My secondary goal was to complete the course in under two hours... which I accomplished. My race time, as measured by RFID chip on my shoe, was 1:58:50 (or an average pace of 5:38 per kilometer).

Nothing to write home about, but not bad for a first-timer. I came in 727th place, out of 1566 runners. So at least I was in the faster half.

Um, that was surprisingly fun. I think I'll do it again.
Looks like I'm really British now. Just got back from voting in my first election. My beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I took a stroll down to our local polling place and put our cross in the box.

This election is both local and hyper-national. I cast a vote one of the two Oxford City Councilors who represents my ward (Headington) and for one of the parties who will share the 10 Minster of European Parliament seats that represent the South East England consituency.

As an Anarchist, I'm not going to hold my breath in the belief that elections will change much. See, for instance, the title and current music to this post. That said, as an immigrant, it's a nice milestone in my 8+ year transition to my adopted country. Indeed, tis possibly the final milestone... unless I follow through on the plan to learn a British accent.

My prediction for the outcome of this election is this:
  • In Headington, the Liberal Democrat candidate (Mohammed Altaf Khan) will win the open seat on the City Council.

  • In the South East England constituency, we will be sending three UKIP people, three Labour people, two Conservative people, one Green person, and one Liberal Democrat to the European Parliament.

  • Furthermore, the order that I listed the parties above indicates my prediction for the share of the vote. UKIP and Labour are locked in a tight race for first; I hope Labour wins. (Not because I like Labour, but because UKIP are ignorant racists who would destroy the economy if their policies came to pass) Similarly, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats are locked in a tight race for, um, fourth place. Hopefully my vote will help the Greens pull ahead.

Nice to have my first election be one where my vote actually makes something of a difference. That's a bit new to me. In the US, I have never lived in a swing state, so my votes for president are never relevant.

For that matter, when the national election comes around next year, I can vote for Mickey Mouse for all the good it would do. Andrew Smith (Labour) has been MP for Oxford East since 1987, and if he's running, he will win. Actually, the Oxford East constituency has only existed since 1983, so he's held the seat for most of that time.[*] If I lived on the other side of town, that would be more interesting; the Oxford West & Abingdon constituency is a marginal district, likely to swing between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Anyway, let's see if my predictions about today bear any relation to the actual results...

[*] Before 1983, there was simply the Oxford constituency, which had existed for nearly 700 years, since 1295. Shame they had to split it in two, really.
I returned upstairs to Chiron Beta Prime, our flat, and consumed said breakfast. Then it was time for a run. Normally, setting out for a 60 minute run would no longer qualify as newsworthy. After all, I do these a couple of times each week now. However, I was determined that today's run would be different.

As mentioned above, I live in the neighbourhood of Headington. Headington sits at the top of the similarly named Headington Hill. Headington Hill is steep. Intimidatingly so. Only once have I successfully ridden my bicycle all the way up the hill; normally I make it halfway before dismounting and walking the bike up the rest of the way.

When I took up running in 2012, I was very careful to choose routes in East Oxford that would avoid running down the hill. After all, what goes down must come up! As my runs got progressively longer, these proto-routes merged into what became my "standard run" -- a 12 km loop around the eastern portion of Oxford. This is all fine and good... but running the same route eventually gets dull. A few months ago, I broadened my horizons with runs that start by going down the hill in the first five minutes, then spend the rest of the workout running up a gentle gradient that takes me back home without ever needing to climb the steep hill.

This, too, was good. Tis a nice route and sometimes allows me to run past my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth when she walks to work. Nothing wrong with this route -- or the original -- and I plan to continue using them both.

That said, I have been running for nearly eighteen months now. In my travels, I have encountered hillier locations than Oxford. My standard run in Tokai, Japan has a steep section; when visiting Mom in Staten Island, NYC in December, I also ran up a couple of hills (e.g., Forest Hill and Todt Hill) that I estimate are steeper than Headington Hill. Thus, on Monday I decided that the time to fear Headington Hill had passed. I would demystify the experience by taking the bull by the horns.

The route was simple to devise -- merely reversing my path would take me down a gentle gradient for 45 minutes, then up Headington Hill in the last 5 - 10 minutes of the run. And that, my friends, is precisely what I did.

Post run, I am actually very pleased with myself. As suspected, running the hill was far less difficult than I had once envisioned. Surprisingly enough, I made very good time for today's run, too. My overall pace was 5:24 for sixty minutes, which means that I ran 11.1 km in an hour. That doesn't break the current record (5:10), but it is faster than the average (about 5:30). Indeed, during the kilometer that included the hill, I still managed a pace of 5:31. Not too shabby!

I hate to say it, but methinks that there will be more running up Headington Hill in my future. It isn't fun, but it is doable... and it is good for me. Maybe I can aim to tackle nearby Shotover Hill sometime soon.
After rolling out of bed and freshening up, I walked downstairs to buy food for breakfast. I live in the centre of Headington, one of the neighbourhoods on the eastern side of Oxford. This morning, I had set my alarm half an hour earlier than the usual seven o'clock, as I wanted to be present when Headington's newest grocery store opened. Indeed, as it turned out, I was the very first customer!

The new store is a Sainsbury's, the second largest chain of grocery and convenience stores in the United Kingdom[*]. Apparently, their new Headington shop is their 600th so-called "Sainsbury's Local" store. So everyone's favourite Nomad is Customer #1 at Sainsbury's #600. My inner numbers geek was suitably amused.

[*] Actualy, Headington is becoming overrun with supermarkets. When my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I moved there from Summertown (a north Oxford neighbourhood) in 2008, there were only two -- an Iceland (specialising in frozen foods) and a Co-op. We used the Co-op until a Waitrose opened a year later, and we have shopped there since. You would think that three supermarkets would be enough for one small neighbourhood, but apparently you would be mistaken. About three months ago, we got a Morrison's and, as of today, we now have a Sainsbury's. If five weren't bad enough, there will be a Tesco (the UK's largest chain) opening up in Headington later this year. There isn't enough business to sustain all six supermarkets; clearly the big players like Tesco and Sainsbury's are trying to force out the smaller ones. For that reason, this morning's purchase will likely be the only time that I shop at Sainsbury's; [ profile] cheshcat and I will continue to get our food at Waitrose.
Thanks to all who responded to the previous entry. The comments were much appreciated. As a side note, I had tried to get last Thursday's seminar postponed by one week, until today, as I knew that we (i.e., the T2K collaboration) would be releasing new results this week. In retrospect, I am rather glad I did not succeed in moving my presentation, as RSD would not have lived long enough to see it. Tis an odd realisation, knowing that in a career spanning decades, my talk was the last physics seminar he ever saw.

That said, Monday's entry was also rather grim. I shall endeavour to correct for that now, by writing a much cheerier accounting of my Thursday morning.

This entry is being written, as so many have before it, from Ye Olde Oxford Tube, as I make my way into London for the "morning" commute. Tis noon, so you could be forgiven for thinking that your friendly neighbourhood Nomad has been having a bit of a lazy day. Not so, however!

This particular Nomad has been awake since half past six and busy as the proverbial bee. Although nothing world-shaking has happened [yet] today, the morning has been filled with various unusual events, some amusing and other rather satisfying. If you read on, dear friends, you will find nothing shocking or vital... but I hope that perhaps you will share some of my good feelings for today.

For ease of reading, I will break each part of the story into a separate chapter, concerning a different topic. Read only the ones that interest you, or read them all! Enjoy!
anarchist_nomad: (The cape as red as blood)
( Feb. 17th, 2014 01:29 pm)
It's an odd moment when your one of the many items on the to-do list for the day includes "E-mail so-and-so"... and then an e-mail comes in saying so-and-so has died. Indeed, I'm not sure that has ever happened to me before.

In this case, so-and-so is a colleague who I met last Summer in Moscow. I gave a seminar at his university on Thursday. He wasn't able to attend in person, due to a fever, but joined remotely. He was ill, but it didn't seem super-serious; also, he couldn't have been older than his mid-fifties. If that.

After the talk, we carried on an animated debate about whether neutrino masses actually constitute physics beyond the Standard Model. We only stopped when I needed to leave to catch my flight home!

Today's to-do list included e-mailing him to thank him for the seminar invite, and to offer to continue our discussion. Guess it no longer needs to be on the list...
anarchist_nomad: (Big Hair)
( Feb. 6th, 2014 05:20 pm)
About to go shave. Is it wrong that I'm listening to the soundtrack from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd right now?[*]

[*] In 2013, I saw 54 plays performed on stage, setting a new record for myself. Of these, the two that I enjoyed most were Titus Andronicus and Sweeney Todd. Both involve murdering people and baking them into meat pies. Should I be worried? (Should YOU?)

Gentle readers, if there is one thing that you know about your friendly neighbourhood Nomad, it may well be that he likes doing new things.

Sometimes this takes the form of going to new places -- hence the "Nomad" name -- but, more generally, I enjoy and actively seek out new experiences. Right now, for instance, I am posting this entry from approximately 39,000 feet over Russia, as I fly to Japan. Posting from a plane? That's a new experience. Also, I have with me my brand new UK passport, but have left my US passport at home. Travelling solely as a Brit? That's also new for me.

Fun though these tidbits might be, they are little things. So, my dear friends, let me tell you of another new experience that I had yesterday. Much more interesting than in-flight WiFi, or the first stamp in my UK passport.

This picture, taken by my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, is where we spent last night:

(click on picture for full version)

That would be the Natural History Museum in London.

For about five years now, the Natural History Museum has had a monthly sleepover event for children, which they call "Dino Snores". This involves an animal show and t-shirt making, before putting the kids to bed at midnight and then feeding them breakfast in the morning.

Museum nights for kids are not particularly uncommon. There are several other museums in London that do sleepover events for children, including the British Museum and the Science Museum. For that matter, I know that theAmericam Museum of Natural History in NYC also does its own sleepovers, and Chicago's Field Museum has Dozin' with the Dinos.

What makes the Natural History Museum different is that they also do a sleepover event for adults: "Dino Snores for Grown-Ups".

Apparently, after they started doing the monthly Dino Snores, they started getting questions about doing an event without the children. So, back in 2012, that is precisely what they did. Dino Snores for Grown-Ups different from the original event in several ways. It is a much smaller event, capped at about 200 people. It is also much pricier -- the kids' "Dino Snores" costs £52 per person; the adult version is £175 a head. However, it also comes with a heck of a lot more -- like a three course dinner, a selection of activities to choose from (rather than a fixed plan). And, of course, no "bedtime" at midnight.

Here is what our Dino Snores evening was like last night:
  • At 19:30, we arrived at the Natural History Museum, just as things were getting started. We set up camp in the Central Hall with our sleeping pads right next to Dippy, the Diplodocus skeleton seen in the picture above. We also met up with our friends C&J, who were joining us for the evening. After taking some pictures, we popped over to the bar (something else not present at the kids' event) to grab a couple of drinks.

  • At 20:30, we were brought into the restaurant for the aforementioned three course meal. As we ate, there was a raffle with some silly prizes from the souvenir shop given out. The only one that I really wanted was the dinosaur head puppet... but, alas, we did not win. Even so, the food was good, as was the company and the conversation.

  • At 22:30, directly following dinner, we had a choice of stand-up comedy or a talk on the sex lives of insects. The four of us opted for the latter. It was a good choice. The scientist giving the talk was quite the stereotype -- the nerdy, slightly frumpy "fly girl" with big glasses who talked with great gusto about all these different insect penises. It was a great talk and quite entertaining. Gauging from the audience reaction, everyone there had a fantastic time. I know we did!

  • At 23:30, we had another choice to make: We could eat some of the bug genetalia that we had just learned about, as there was an edible insect tasting. Or we could attend an interactive video presentation about evolution. C&J went to eat bugs. Meanwhile, [ profile] cheshcat had no interest in joining them and, as a vegetarian, I cannot do so. Thus, our choice for this slot was easy. Whilst J was taking pictures of C chowing down on bugs, [ profile] cheshcat and I learned about the ways in which we are related to other hominids, lungfish, parasitic worms... and bananas. Personally, I'm more pleased to have bananas in my family tree than I am about those parasitic worms.

  • At 00:30, the museum galleries were opened. We went to see the Hall of Mammals and the Whale Hall. Then we took a break to pop back over to the Central Hall bar for more drinks and snacks before it closed at 01:00 (though the free tea & coffee would stay available until 02:00). There was live music in the Central Hall -- the harpist provided a lovely atmosphere for the setting. Soft and pretty, but subtle and unintrusive. Next, we took our sweet time going through the special exhibit on this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Checking out the WPotY exhibit is an annual tradition for [ profile] cheshcat and I. However, we normally have to fight our way through a crush of people when we go during regular museum hours. Going at night was a lovely change of pace -- with only a handful of other people in the gallery, we practically had a private viewing!

  • At 02:30, the museum galleries closed. Some folks started going to bed; we gathered to hear ghost stories about the museum. Apparently, there are tales going back to the museum's Victorian origins, and other stories dating back only to recent weeks. Much of the haunting seems to take place at three o'clock in the morning... so it was rather amusing when the lights had an unscheduled switch-off for a minute or two at 03:00!

  • At just after 03:00, once the ghost stories were over, most people went back to the Central Hall to get some sleep. For those of us who preferred to keep going, there was a movie marathon. We had several choices but, not surprisingly, the vote went quite easily to Jurassic Park. Which, I may add, I had never seen before. J started to doze partway through, and went off to bed. Meanwhile C and [ profile] cheshcat and I stayed to watch the film.

  • At 05:15, the next film voted in was Jaws. Which I have also never seen. C opted to stay, but [ profile] cheshcat and I decided to get a couple of hours rest. I'm glad we did -- walking through the darkened museum to get back to our sleeping pads in the Central Hall was one of the best parts of the night. I hadn't expected this, but it was really cool being there, by ourselves -- most others were already asleep -- strolling through the dark halls as we peered into cases to see stuffed pandas and ostriches and whatnot inside. After brushing up, we got into bed around 05:30 and claimed a couple of hours of sleep. I had expected to stay up all night but, in retrospect, I think that this was the better choice. Falling asleep next to Dippy was also pretty awesome!

  • At 07:30, we arose -- waking up next to Dippy was pretty awesome, too! C&J were already awake -- indeed, C had never gone to bed. We got caffeinated with the tea and coffee being served in the restaurant and chatted whilst waiting for breakfast to be served.

  • At 08:00, breakfast was served. Nothing special, just a traditional full English breakfast, with a vegetarian version available. The freshly squeezed orange juice was rather yummy, though! During breakfast, we filled out feedback forms -- we each gave them a 10 out of 10 for the event. Also, prizes were awarded for the pictures taken and tweets tweeted during the event. Not being a twit, I hadn't even tried to win this one!

  • Finally, at 09:00, we packed up and headed home.

Definitely a new experience, and very different from anything that I've ever done before. I had a great time. I know [ profile] cheshcat did, too, as we were only a few hours in when she said that we should do this again sometime. I'm game for that! C&J also had fun, and I'm glad that I could convince them to come out and play with us!

With no rest for the weary, I drove [ profile] cheshcat and I back to Oxford and proceeded to pack for Japan. And, in about seven hours, Japan is where I will be.

I am rather delighted (or, as the Brits might say, "chuffed") to have done this. It was a spectacular experience. I don't know of any other museums that have overnights for adults, but I hope that more will pick up on the idea and it will become a trend.

Meanwhile, my friends, tis time for this Nomad to post his museum adventure and then try to get a little shuteye before landing. Be well, everyone, and talk to you soon!


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