The 31st annual Astronomy Weekend at Oxford University is now over. I am delighted to report that the physics-fu has been strong with me during this weekend.

Despite the fact that I was up on "Friday night" until four thirty in the morning, I did indeed finish my talk with hours to spare. Kudos to me! Also, kudos to all those who left comments on my last post, giving me some virtual company through the long night. In fact, I appreciate it enough that, more than offering mere kudos, I will retroactively give one hundred points to each person who left a message for me on Friday ngiht.

I must confess that I was somewhat nervous about presenting my lecture on Cosmic Rays: Messengers from the Extreme Universe. Last year's talk was so well received -- getting me invited back for a second year in a row! -- that I had concerns about being able to fill my own shoes. I need not have worried; immediately after my talk, one person came up to me and said that it was even better than last year. Nice! [ profile] cheshcat -- who had come to hear me speak -- commented that it was not as funny as last year's talk... but that was not really a surprise. Although I moments that incited laughter in this year's talk[*], I knew a priori that it would not be as funny. It is very easy to make fun of yourself when you are presenting a talk from a search with no results -- like my dark matter lecture -- and those easy inroads to humour are gone when you actually have significant findings to report.

Nevermind. I can live with being a littls less funny this year. The talk went well, and that was the main thing.[**] Indeed, I even had a few people asking me if I would come back again next year... and saying that they would request it on the comment sheet at the end of the course. Hmmm... is it possible to have physics groupies?

It is a tradition on Saturday afternoon of the astronomy weekend to have an option tour arranged for the attendees. Last year, the tour was of Green College. I sat out, as I wanted to rehearse my lecture. This year, it was of the Denys Wilkinson Physics Building... so I was roped into giving part of the tour. The crowd was broken into four groups, with each group taken to one of four places: The rooftop telescope, the electronics laboratory, a lecture by an astronomy graduate student... and the cryo-detector lab. Can you guess where I was based? The groups rotated so that all the attendees got to do see all four places. As a result, I ended up giving four tours -- each accompanied by a miniature dark matter talk -- of my old stomping grounds... and came face-to-face with my old nemesis: the Kelvinox-400! It seems that this was quite a hit as well -- I later got thanked by many people for the tour and, at the end of the weekend, the organiser[***] publicly commented from the stage that he had enjoyed getting to see the inside of my old lab. That was quite nice of him -- were I prone to blushing, I may have changed hue!

One extra bonus whilst in the cryo-detector lab was that I ran into JI, my old graduate student. He will be finishing up at Oxford in a few months and had talked to me in February about the T2K experiment. Knowing there was an post-doctoral opening at Stony Brook, in the group where I worked for my PhD, I encouraged him to apply. When he did, I wrote him a recommendation letter... and put in an informal word or two to the leader of the group, my thesis adviser. Turns out that he got the position... and has accepted it! Excellent! I think that he will be good for the Stony Brook group and they, in turn, will be good for him. It feels quite nice to be able to make such a match!

Speakers at the astronomy weekend are welcome to stick around to hear the other talks. Last year, I surprised the organiser by staying for all of the talks. Apparently, most speakers do not. This year, I did the same. I really don't understand why more speakers don't do this -- I learned some fascinating things! In particular, I was impressed by the talk on Recent Results from the Hubble Space Telescope[****] and also by the talk on detecting exoplanets via the transit method. I knew that, since the first discovery of exoplanets in 1995, the field had come a long way. However, I was blown away to learn that we can now figure out what the atmospheres and compositions are for exoplanets. Wow. Just... wow.

This evening, with the astronomy weekend behind me for [at least] another year, I went to St. Giles to ring bells for the Sunday evening services. Then I came home and had a lovely dinner with [ profile] cheshcat. Over dinner, she informed me that somebody had sent a text to our landline today. It came through as a call with the content being read by a computerised voice. Apparently, it was a silly cheese song. Hmmmmm... Who could have done such a thing? I have a hunch who might have been behind such a devious -- and successful -- plan to make us laugh... but I will not reveal my suspicions until they have been confirmed.

As the weekend begins to wind down, I may pick up the phone and ring some lovely people in the States. There are a few special persons that I have not spoken to in Far Too LongTM. Then I may play a game with [ profile] cheshcat to wind down before bed...

[*] Like when I used the nickname for the Higgs Boson (the so-called "God Particle") to introduce the nickname for the highest energy cosmic ray yet observed (the so-called "Oh My God! Particle").

[**] In response to a request from [ profile] blaisepascal, the slides for the talk can be found here. Alas, due to some large pictures within, the file is about 56 MB. Can it be made smaller? Of course! However, size was not really my priority writing it in the middle of the night before presenting...

[***] Who is a professor at the Open University, a former particle physics theorist, and a current astronomy... writing a textbook on general relativity. Not exactly a slouch in the achievement department.

[****] Mainly because it had, by far, the best photographs of the weekend!

Just got home from driving the last of the UnGuests home as the second day of the Cheshcat Convalescent UnParty draws to a close!

Weekend report: The UnParty -- both days -- was an unmitigated success!

We had twelve people drop by on Saturday and six come around on Sunday. There were games and good food and good company and good conversation! Giles the kitten was exposed to more people than ever before, and admired by many. There was a tour of the cryo-detector lab and two batches of ice cream were made! At least one person told me that the ice cream was the best that she had ever eaten!! Indeed, even the weather cooperated to make for an utterly fantastic weekend!

More details to follow[*], but for now I think it is best to give a call to the delightful [ profile] tawneypup and then wind down for bed. Busy week ahead!

[*] I hope!
This will be my first weekend spent wholly in Oxford since May. Also, my last weekend spent wholly in Oxford until at least November. With [ profile] cheshcat convalescing from her surgery, the weekend weather forecast calls for mellow with a touch of calm.

One opportunity provided by this unusual situation is to catch up on my blogging. I have been a Bad LiveJournaler[*] of late and written very little of what has gone on in my life. Alas, gentle readers, y'all know what that means, don't you?

That's right! It is time for another one of those boring Week-In-Review entries! )

[*] No donut for me!

Another late night in the lab. Actually, the first in quite some time. We closed up the K-400 cryostat today, and I am now getting it prepared to cool down to 4K overnight with liquid helium.

Still have no time for a proper update on the past week. Have also continued to be a bit rubbish about replying to people. This trend will continue at least for the rest of today. In the meantime, though, there are a few things that I should say quickly:

  • This afternoon, I brought [ profile] cheshcat home from the hospital. It was good to have her back! She seems to be doing well. She is at home, convalescing, and is off work for the next week and a half. Now that she is home, I will let her make updates on her recovery when she sees fit to do so.

  • I want to thank everyone who send energy and good wishes before (and after) the surgery. Believe me, they have been much appreciated by both of us!

  • Recent fluctuations in the stock market are causing me financial woe. Not the normal type you would expect, though. On Monday, I bet my officemate that the Dow would drop below 10,000 points at some point this week. So tomorrow, we are off to lunch at Noodle Bar -- my treat. Can't even count on the US economy to fail properly!

  • For anyone planning to attend the UnParty at Skullcrusher Mountain: I call this an "UnParty"[*] because, quite frankly, neither Chesh nor myself is really in a position to set up a formal party. Basically, we will be home all weekend as she recovers from surgery, and Skullcrusher Mountain is open to all who wish to join us. Drop by anytime on Saturday or Sunday[**] and expect to be welcomed with a variety of mellow activities: Gaming, movies, conversation, et cetera. Nothing particularly special is happening and there are no particular times to observe. With one exception: Sometime on Saturday, I will be making a batch of ice cream to share and enjoy. Other than that, you may wish to bring some snacks or other food with you, because -- as an UnParty -- we will be mellow on this front, too. Main meals will probably be takeaway. We will have some snacks and drinks, but I'm not going to spend too much time on preparation. Also, since there appears to be some interest, I will be bringing people to the University to give tours of the cryo-lab. Since the lab is less than a mile from Skullcrusher Mountain, this does not need to be scheduled -- I can easily do it more than once if need be. Finally, crash space should be available to anyone who needs it.

Right, then. Back to the cryostat so I can eventually go home and eat dinner tonight. Maybe even sleep![***]

[*] In the spirit that my dear friend [ profile] theentwife established the Uncoven of the Solitaries.

[**] Hopefully not at 4am or anything... though if you really trek out at that time, we won't turn you away at the door.

[***] Now that would be quite the novelty!

Hurm... it appears to be Tuesday. How did that happen?

Let's see. Saturday )

After such a late night, I suppose it would have made sense to sleep in on Sunday. )

As spifftacular as the weekend was, I think that -- contrary to its reputation -- Monday was even better. )
So it is a little after midnight on a Friday... and here I am, back in the lab.

The plans for the pub did not pan out. Or, rather, they panned out without me! [ profile] cheshcat met C&M there and had a good meal, but I was unable to leave the lab before about 8:30pm... at which point they were all back at Skullcrusher Mountain. This was slightly vexing, but more than worth it because the reason I could not leave the lab is that things were going very, very well. My boss and I were reviewing the alpha-spectrum data that I was recording from the titanium-on-sapphire proto-detector. In short, it looks very good!

Upon meeting the others at SCM, I found that [ profile] cheshcat had been an absolute sweetie and made me some dinner. I ate quickly and then dug into a game of Puerto Rico with the three of them. I don't think I have played since April -- tis good to get back to this particular addiction. Apparently, I have not lost my edge, either: I won with 61 points, M came in second with 49, followed by Chesh with 47 and C with 41.

Now I am back at the lab briefly to examine the data accumulated over the past four hours, while I indulged in food and games. Then time to start a new data run and go home to sleep. With any luck, I can be dreaming before one o'clock.

Tomorrow's options have dwindled, as the Malvern Hills hike has apparently been postponed. Actually, I prefer this... as I can go soak in the jacuzzi tomorrow and still join the hike on another weekend! I have never been to the Malvern Hills and would love to see them!

Right, time for data and then dozing...
As mentioned last week, I've been taking a bit of an LJ holiday... inspired by a bad sprain in the left wrist. One week later, it is definitely improved, but not back to normal. This may be in part due to the fact that I really have not been resting it much. Ah well.

In any case, I am now taking a break from my LJ break to just summarise the highlights of my life from the past week. Not terribly interesting to anyone else, I know, but I want to remember certain bits of it. So here they are:

Last week:
Was pleasantly surprised on payday by a rise. Just three percent -- the annual inflation adjustment -- but welcome nonetheless. With large vet bills and seven weeks as a single income household, this year has been a bit tight and any attempt to give me additional income will not be turned away at the door. Actually, the University has been fairly generous in this regard; after twenty-six months here, my salary is nearly 21% higher than it was when I started. That's equivalent to a 0.73% monthly raise -- not too shabby!

Also had a nice "phone date" with [ profile] frogcastle last week. It has been nearly six months since last we saw each other, as her Spring visit to Oxford was cancelled on account of her needing surgery. Happily, Starwood is next month (!!!) and we will see much of each other again there!

On Saturday, [ profile] cheshcat and I had a nice day out. The weather cooperated with us, so we spent most of the day out of doors. We started by getting lunch at The Trout. Sitting next to the Thames, we enjoyed our meal while watching the water flow by us. Afterward, we went to the Oxford Botanic Garden, where we enjoyed the first of their summer picnics. In the evening, we went to Lincoln College to see an outdoor production -- our first of the year -- of Twelfth Night. I had not seen it before, so this makes twenty-one of Shakespeare's plays that I have seen performed on the stage, with sixteen more to go.

Sunday's biggest news was, of course, another visit with our new kitten, which I have already written about. The rest of the day was pretty ordinary and involved things like ringing bells for services at St. Giles and preparing the cryostat for this week's work. Not terribly worth writing on.

This week:
A couple of interesting things have happened this week. I already mentioned passing the level three and level four appraisals in my final ice skating course of the term on Monday. On Tuesday I received my first circulated[*] 2008 coin -- a shiny penny, still with the old reverse. And today I made a blood donation, my seventh since moving to England.

At work, we successfully managed to record an alpha-spectrum (using radioactive Americium) with our proto-detector. I talked about this several weeks ago, but it took some time to see a result. Electronics troubles -- most particularly interference from ground loops -- slowed things down and needed to be sorted first. In any case, as of Wednesday morning, we have an alpha-spectrum measurement, which is quite a satisfying step forward.

My ringing has been making steady and noticeable progress. At Mary Mag, I have been having further gos at Plain Bob Major. I am still quite rough at doing this on tower bells, but the practice is precisely what is needed. At St. Cross last week, we did an interesting exercise -- ringing called changes with our backs turned away from each other, using only our ears to guide us. Eeep! Nerve inducing, but quite useful, really. At St. Cross this week, I rang a touch of Plain Bob Doubles... and I thought that I handled myself quite well in it! Very encouraging! Indeed, I am reaching the point where Bob Doubles -- and, yes, I know it is a simple method -- is coming instinctively, without me needing to concentrate intensely on it to ring correctly. Tonight -- in about an hour -- I have another practice at St. Giles, first on handbells and then on tower bells.

Finally, if all this babbling about my life has not driven everyone away, here is a reward for any Batman fans out there. I was completely unaware of this until [ profile] cheshcat found it... but there is an animated Batman movie coming out later this year[**]. The trailer does not give away much of the plot, but the animation looks really cool... and the voice of Batman & Bruce Wayne is being done by Kevin Conroy, who also was the voice actor on the most excellent Batman: The Animated Series. Here is the trailer:

[*] I have a complete set of uncirculated UK coins from 2008 already, all with the old reverses. I ordered it from the Royal Mint in December and, indeed, had it before 2007 was out. However, there is still something nifty about receiving one's first coin of the year from regular circulation. At least to me there is.

[**] Direct to DVD, I'm afraid.

There is a lot going on that I could write about.

I could write about how, after ringing practice at St. Cross yesterday, [ profile] cheshcat and I went to the Oxford Playhouse to see a production of London Assurance. This brilliantly witty play, written by Dion Boucicault and performed by the famous Watermill Theatre company, inspired Oscar Wilde... and it is easy to see why.

I could write about development and progress at work with the R&D for new cryogenic detectors.

I could write about ringing practice at St. Giles tonight, and how I practiced -- several times -- ringing the treble for a touch of Grandsire Triples in the [slightly ambitious] hopes of being ready to ring it for a quarter peal in the not-too-distant future.

However, even with all that has been going on, I was not planning to write a LiveJournal entry tonight. In just over sixteen hours, [ profile] cheshcat and I are leaving Oxford to spend the holiday weekend exploring the Peak District... and there is much that remains to be done before we go! If you were expecting to hear from me, via e-mail or LJ comment or some other medium, it probably will not happen until next week. Don't take it personally; now you know why.

But if there is so much that needs to be done, why am I sitting here writing this? Good question!

Well..... tonight, at Saint Giles, I had a bit of a surprise )

[*] One thousand points to anyone who can correctly tell me what I am quoting in my title. I doubt anyone can do it... but surprise me!

Had a nice little drive out to Tubney Woods today to bring a piece of the S-400 cryostat in for repair. I don't work with the S-400 and have only cooled it down once, but I have good contacts at Oxford Instruments from the days of the troubles with the K-400. So I am managing this little repair as a favour to others in our group. It is convenient that the world's leading manufacturer of helium dilution refrigerators is based less than ten miles from where I work.

On the drive, I had the windows and the sunroof open. The weather was nice, the sun was shining. Something about driving fast with the wind rushing by and good music on the stereo always puts me in a happy mood.

Speaking of cars, I renewed the insurance on Peter yesterday. The same company that I used last year to find me the best quote located a new company that charges £100 less. So, as of Thursday, I will be insured by a company called Chaucer. Needless to say, [ profile] cheshcat and I are amused by this.

Still speaking of cars, I filled Peter up on Monday, while I was in London. I paid £1.249 per litre for fuel. That works out to about $9.24 per gallon. To those of you in the States complaining about $4/gallon fuel, I have to say that you should count your blessings. This is the most that I have ever paid per unit for car fuel, though not the most expensive that I have ever seen. Both in London and on the Isle of Wight, I saw places charging £1.289 per litre, or about $9.54 per gallon.

Finally, on an unrelated note, I should mark that I rung Plain Bob Major on tower bells for the first time last night, at Mary Mag. When LC mentioned that he would give me a go at it, I quickly studied the method and memorised which bells the #2 follows. When it came time to ring, he told me to take the #5. Ooops! I asked for the #2 and he told me that I could have it only if I promised that I had not been memorising which bells I should follow. Since I could not honestly promise this, he put me on the #3 bell. I cannot say that it went well... but for a first attempt it was not too bad, I think. Excited about learning something new, I spent the rest of the practice studying the method properly, learning the places and the dodges rather than which bells to follow... but, alas, I did not get to give it a second try. That was mildly frustrating, but I suppose it comes of having eighteen people show up for practice. Most of the time was spent with either the experienced ringers trying complicated [to me] methods or letting the learners ring called changes. Those of us in the intermediate level, me and one other person, each only got that one go on Bob Major during the evening. I won't be able to try again tonight at St. Cross, either. That practice caters more to my level... but you can't ring a major method in a tower that only has six bells! Must ask at St. Giles tomorrow night if I can practice this some more with them...
Same thing we do every night -- work late in the lab![*]

Yes, gentle readers, it is true. I am writing this journal entry from the comfort of my office, once again. Try not to act too surprised.

Actually, work is going rather well right now. After the successes of Monday and Tuesday, I opened up the cryostat today and added a radioactive alpha-emitting source. So now I am working late to close up the fridge again in the hopes of getting in a second cooldown by the end of this week. The alpha calibration source is in there to test the proto-detector that we are working on. We know what the spectrum from it should look like -- time to make some measurements and see if our little detector measures what we think it should.

In the evening -- in between work and, well, more work -- I went to St. Cross to practice my ringing with the OUSCR. The most notable progress was on Plain Bob Doubles, where I rang the #3 bell for the full extent of the method (120 changes). I also rang up in peal at the start of the practice and down again at the end... noticing that these skills have improved quite a bit, too.

Speaking of the St. Cross church, I recently learned that it will be ceasing to operate as a church soon and will be used by one of the colleges as space for file storage. I was sorry to hear this news. St. Cross has been a site of worship for over a thousand years -- an informational card in the church gives a brief history of the first millennium -- and it is a sad thing to see something so old come to an end. On a practical level, it does make sense; there are many parish churches in Oxford and the St. Cross congregation has become quite small. Nonetheless, I regret this bit of news.

After ringing practice, I cycled into the city centre to meet up with [ profile] cheshcat at the Oxford Playhouse. We saw a production of Educating Agnes, which is an adaption of Molière's L'Ecole des Femmes. The performance was good and entertaining; it is not one of my favourite plays, but we did enjoy it.

In other news, my boycott of Brighton has now ended. I received word from the city today that the battle we were waging against them was successful -- go us![**] Between this and my victory against New York City last month[***], I am starting to feel that cities everywhere should rightly fear the Nomad![*]

Finally, does anyone on my f-list still read super-hero comic books? If so, is anybody currently following the "Brand New Day" story in Amazing Spider-Man?[****] If so, what do you think? I just finished OMD last night and started on BND; so far I am enjoying the story but am also appalled at the absurd retcon required to make it all happen. In a way, it almost feels like Heroes Reborn all over again. I suppose that I should just relax and go along for the ride... as it is unthinkable that Mighty Marvel will not return to Ye Olde Status Quo in good time.

[*] Cue megalomaniacal laughter.

[**] Especially [ profile] cheshcat, who did most of the work.

[***] Admittedly a much longer and harder battle involving much higher stakes and a much more important cause (to me), but fought against a much more significant city.

[****] And the "One More Day" story that led into it.

Highlights of this week, so far:

Monday, made some good progress on the R&D for new cryogenic detector technology. No, we will not find dark matter this week... but making tangible progress always feels good! Very good, in fact. Wrestling with dodgy equipment is annoying; building something new that works is much more satisfying!

Monday evening, I learned that one can ice skate much better when one is physically capable of bending one's left knee. Funny that, isn't it? We are still the level three class who is practicing all the level three and four skills while starting on level five. Whee!

Today, Tuesday, [ profile] cheshcat returned from her two week, three state tour of the USA. Yay! Although we are well accustomed to much longer periods apart, it is always nice to have her back.

After picking Chesh up at Heathrow, we went to the Harcourt Arboretum to see their expansive bluebell meadow while the 'bells were still in bloom. Absolutely stunning! The Arboretum is run by the University as the sibling to the Oxford Botanical Garden, where I just paid a visit on Saturday. Collect them all!

Back at work this afternoon, we continued building on the progress of yesterday with still more development. This is good, as "development" is the "D" in "R&D" so it is very much what we are trying to do. I cannot talk more about it here but anyone interested in the nuts and bolts can ask me in person.

In the evening, it was off to Mary Mag for more ringing practice with the OUSCR. And then it was home for dinner and some quality alone time with the [ profile] cheshcat.

Now it is almost time for bed. However, before I lay me down to sleep, there is a side benefit to Chesh's return: She comes bearing comic books! Nearly 120 of them, in fact -- all my subscriptions from mid-December to the present! That makes it like Christmas all over again! No way I can end the evening without starting to dig into this stack of treats!
anarchist_nomad: (Center of the Universe)
( May. 7th, 2008 08:13 pm)
Sitting in my office as I write this, there is a clear sky with a magnificent glowing orb in it. You know the orb I mean -- it is slowly sinking into the horizon.

This week, starting yesterday, marks the beginning of summer for me. How can I tell? Because the weather has been sufficiently warm to change into shorts and sandals. I have had quite a number of errands to tend to, and cycling about Oxford in weather like this is quite pleasant.

There is a cooling cryostat in the next room with two proto-detectors and a radioactive cobalt source inside. Indeed, I need to get back to tending them soon. Fun stuff should happen with this tomorrow.

It is early enough that I should likely finished with the cooling and home before ten o'clock.

As another sign that summer is here, I can finish work after nine o'clock and still ride home in the twilight. I don't mind working late nearly as much when I can still have sunlight to keep me company.

Last night, I had a nice conversation with RG, who some of you know from P**T***. It was good to chat, as I hadn't talked to him in months.

Earlier this evening, I rang bells at St. Cross with the OUSCR. I had a fair bit of practice ringing Plain Bob Doubles. Up until now, I have only rang this on the #2 bell (or the treble or a covering tenor, both of which are much easier than the inside bells, #2-#5) for a plain course. Tonight, I tried it from the #3 bell -- which is the same pattern but from a different starting point -- and I rang a "touch" -- where "bob" calls mix up the order. This exercise was to help my ropesight along -- my memory for numbers allows me to "cheat" on the simple patterns by simply memorising who I should follow -- and it went remarkably well. That felt good. Ringing down in peal at the end also went exceptionally well; possibly the best go I've had at it so far.

In the mail at work today, I received an invitation to the "International Symposium on Coptic Culture: Past, Present, and Future", hosted by the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Hertfordshire and held next week at the British Museum. This is not strictly a good thing per se, but it gave me a laugh. Somehow, the Coptic Church on this side of the pond found me. Sort of. The letter was addressed to me at the Oriental Institute, not the Physics Department. Close, though. I have no intention of going to the lecture -- I would if it were held in Oxford, but I can't spare the time (and miss Thursday ringing) to go to London for it -- but knowing that I set their Coptic SenseTM tingling did amuse me.
You know what they say: If your weekend was so active it leaves you limping, then you know that it was a success!

Don't have time for details now, but here is the synopsis: On Saturday, I left Oxford and made my was to London for BiFest. Had an excellent time, meeting lovely new people and seeing some faces that are happily becoming familiar. Besides the people -- which was really the best part -- there were nifty workshops, yummy food, and a spiffy dance.

Sunday morning, [ profile] ms_katonic and I lay in until after noon. This delayed the start of my London walk by a couple of hours. By one o'clock, I was on my way, however. The original plan for the route can be seen here, and is just over twenty miles. It begins in Lewisham, near Greenwich Park, and ends up in Regents Park. Now that I have done the walk, I need to map out the actual course that I took, which I estimate to be about twenty two miles. I added some extra detours when something interesting, like the Old Bailey, caught my eye. Indeed, I got quite a splendid tour of London from this walk. Yesterday turned out to have a musical theatre theme -- while walking, I listened to soundtracks from five of my favourite shows.

After the walk ended, around nine o'clock, I went to the Pembury tavern and met [ profile] ms_katonic and others to unwind. [ profile] ms_katonic gets thanks and public recognition for being remarkably sweet -- she saved food for me when the kitchen closed so that I would be able to eat!

Once we left the tavern and made our way back to her house, I took a nice hot bath to relax the sore muscles in my left leg. The right leg is perfectly fine and doesn't notice that it very nearly walked a marathon yesterday. However, I must have pulled something in the left leg, because it is noticeably stiff and I am limping.

This morning was very lazy, and I did not actually stand up until after three o'clock. Shortly after I did, it was time to make my way back to Oxford my my ice skating lesson. Although we are technically a level three class, we have now covered all of the level three and four skills -- and started in on level five this week! We are halfway through the term -- three lessons down, three to go -- and I am hoping to pass the tests for level three and four. While it might be nice to get an early start on level five, actually passing it can wait for the next term. I must confess that my performance in today's class was less than stellar -- having one wooden leg is not an advantage on the ice.

That brings us to the present. I am currently in the lab, getting the cryostat set up for tomorrow. Yes, I know that it is ten o'clock in the evening and a holiday. What is your point? I am a scientist, we know nothing of set working hours!

Actually, the work here should be done shortly, at which point I will head home to lavish attention on The Boy and to make phone calls to [ profile] resourceress[*] -- to talk about Iron Man -- and [ profile] gyades. Then it is off to sleep -- early, I hope -- as a busy week awaits.

[*] Resourceress being the only partner I have ever had who shares my love for the Armored Avenger.

anarchist_nomad: (Guess who?)
( Apr. 27th, 2008 08:04 pm)
Back in Oxford now, after quite a nice weekend in Birmingham. Saturday and Sunday were completely different... but both very good.

Don't have time to write anything of detail now. Drove back into town and headed directly to the lab -- good thing, too, as I arrived just minutes before the fridge was about to run dry. Must go focus on refilling with liquid helium so I can run experiments tomorrow.

Quickly, though, I have a question:

Does anyone local to Oxford[*] know of a cat shelter that they would recommend? I am not asking for a Google search or a flip through the local phone directory -- I can do that perfectly well myself. I am wondering if anyone has a personal recommendation. I am looking to adopt a kitten, but am quite specific about what I want. The shelters here in Oxford have nothing for me right now. I can wait, of course, but there is no reason not to check the surrounding area while I do.

Oh, and for no other reason that to remember it later, I should note that view of the sunset through my office window as I write this is quite spectacular!

[*] "Local" == "Within about one hundred miles"

anarchist_nomad: (Road trip!)
( Apr. 26th, 2008 02:02 pm)
Just got back from driving [ profile] cheshcat to Heathrow. She is heading to the States to present an award-winning paper[*] at the biggest annual conference in her field. Needless to say, I am very proud of her.

For the next two weeks, then, it is just The Boy and me holding down the fort here at Skullcrusher Mountain.

Actually, that is not quite accurate... because in a little while, I am heading out of town, too -- driving up to Birmingham for the weekend. Today is, erm, science experiments and games with [ profile] thehalibutkid and [ profile] oilrig; tomorrow I am seeing the lovely [ profile] redandfiery.

First, though, I must needs return to the lab and make sure that the cryostat has not blown up overnight. Should also pick up one or two items for the, erm, science experiments. May as well head into town on foot -- the weather is absolutely phenomenal today!
Trinity Term started here at Oxford this week. Although I neither teach nor take classes, this still affects me. For one thing, with all those pesky students back, it becomes much harder to find a space to chain up my bicycle when I ride in each morning. For another thing, my weekday evenings are entirely booked for eight weeks (this week and the following seven). Here is what I can be found doing:

Monday: Ice skating lessons and practice.
Tuesday: Tower bell ringing with OUSCR at Mary Mag.
Wednesday: Tower bell ringing with OUSCR at St. Cross.
Thursday: Handbell ringing at St. Giles followed by tower bell ringing.
(Possibly followed by gaming with the Oxford Uni Board Game Society.)

Most days, my evening activities tend to wrap up around nine o'clock... unless I game after ringing on Thursdays, in which case all bets are off. On Wednesdays, however, we ring relatively early and are finished by 7:15pm. It will be nice to have one early evening each week, in case I want to take in a theatrical performance at the Oxford Playhouse or go for a swim at the Ferry Sports Centre.

I will likely not write about these events each week unless something noteworthy happens -- I don't believe I have mentioned any of my evening activities from this week until now -- but that is what I have been and will be up to.

Speaking of this week, I have felt like my Physics Fu has been quite strong. I have cooled the cryostat not once, but twice[**]. I heard an interesting talk yesterday on future neutrino experiments, ranging from superbeams and beta beams to a possible low energy neutrino factory[***]. Shortly after, I heard a Nobel Laureate deliver this year's Halley Lecture[****] on "The History and Fate of the Universe"[*****]. And, in between it all, I think I have managed to do one or two fairly clever things in the lab. Broadly speaking, none of what I have done this week has particularly long-lasting consequences... but being in my physics groove gives me a good feeling.

Right. The Kelvinox is beckoning to me. Once more unto the lab, dear friends, once more.

[*] To be sung to the tune of Springtime for Hitler.

[**] Second cooldown in progress as I write this. Current temperature 1.8K and falling.

[***] The cynic in me snorts and says: "Yeah, like that will ever be funded." But the idea is still spiffy as all get-out!

[****] Edmund Halley, of the comet fame, being a former member of this University, gets a special lecture in his honour each year.

[*****] A nice general topic, yes? Covers just about everything there, I think.

anarchist_nomad: (Guess who?)
( Apr. 16th, 2008 06:35 pm)
At work, a shortage of liquid helium may be delaying this week's cooldown. Everything is ready and the cryostat is closed... but if I don't have liquid helium, then I ain't got nuthin'.

Extra-curricular activities yesterday consisted of bell ringing practice at Mary Mag in the evening and an hour long walk -- covering three and a quarter miles -- by myself in Oxford during the afternoon. The walk, around the University Park and Marston, got me out into the nice weather for a bit. I am not sure if taking these shorter walks during the week in between the long weekend ones will help at all, but I figure that they can't hurt... and they are pleasant.

Extra-curricular activity for tonight is a production of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite at the Oxford Playhouse. As soon as I post this entry, I will be heading home to pick up [ profile] cheshcat.
Here in Oxford, today was the first day of the year where the sun set after eight o'clock in the evening. I was working in the lab until after nine o'clock, and it was very nice to have the sunlight stay with me for most of that time. The actual sunset, visible thanks to a parting of the clouds, was much appreciated, also.

As a result of this work, the cryostat is now ready for another cooldown. Loaded into the Kelvinox are three SPEER thermometers and a relatively new one made from ruthenium oxide. For the first time, all four seem to be simultaneously working fine. Accomplishing this was no easy feat and required several hours of delicate soldering work with fragile wires. The fidgety nature of the task makes it tricky enough when performed on a workbench... but in this case it needed to be done in a vertical plane (i.e., with equipment already mounted in the fridge). That always ends up being so much fun! Nonetheless, it is done and the thermometers are ready to go, along with two proto-type detectors. One is titanium and has an experimental optical heater. The other is tungsten and has a conventional electrical heater. Later in the week, I should get to test the titanium one. We shall see if the cryostat gets cold enough (~6mK) to test the tungsten. Last two cooldowns have gotten stuck at around 20 - 25 mK. This may be one hundredth of the temperature of outer space... but it is still far too hot for my purposes.

Meanwhile, either I am starting to get into better shape than I had thought or else last night's bath had something miraculous in the water. Maybe a bit of both. Because my soreness today, after walking seventeen miles yesterday, is only barely noticeable. I am starting to get quite excited now about the Isle of Wight walk next month. Today, I booked accommodations for our trip and C booked us space on the car ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth. And yesterday C&M and I all registered for the actual walk. Yes, I am definitely looking forward to this... and we have even talked about keeping these weekend walks going after the Walk The Wight challenge is finished. My only real regret at the moment is that C&M are flying off to Tasmania on Saturday and staying there for three weeks. This leaves me with no walking partner. I can, and will, practice on my own... but it won't be as much fun. Does anybody local[*] to Oxford fancy taking a walk of about ten miles -- roughly three hours -- or more during the next few weekends? If so, do let me know!

[*] For practical purposes, I define "local" to mean "within about one hundred miles."

anarchist_nomad: (Guess who?)
( Mar. 31st, 2008 11:24 pm)
My goodness -- I really have been rubbish about updating lately! I will try to rectify that somewhat now.

Friday, I had an almost-cold cryostat. By this, I mean that the K-400 had cooled to 23mK[*], which is not quite cold enough to work with a tungsten detector -- we need 8mK at most for that. However, I had also installed a prototype titanium detector, which superconducts at a few hundred millikelvin, so I could do some experimenting with that.

Friday evening, the adorable [ profile] ms_katonic came back to Oxford and we shared a lovely weekend together. Said weekend included another trip to Blenheim Palace on Saturday. Inclement weather prevented us from enjoying the park and the gardens, but I did get to see more of the inside of the palace than I had on my previous trip. A new exhibit, called "The Untold Story", tells the story of the various inhabitants of the palace over the past three hundred years... narrated by a ghost of one of the first servants there. It was cheesy but cute. Also, the private apartments, where the current Duke of Marlborough and his family live -- were available to tour; they are usually off limits. So we got to see how ridiculously and outrageously rich people live.

Saturday evening was somewhat mellow and, on Sunday, the weather had improved greatly. To celebrate this most distinctly Spring-like weather, [ profile] ms_katonic and I took a stroll through the University Parks. Then we came back to Skullcrusher Mountain with enough time to play Puerto Rico with [ profile] cheshcat before I needed to drop her off at the coach station[**]. [ profile] cheshcat played a remarkably solid game and scored a definitive win: fifty-eight points to my fifty-four. After [ profile] ms_katonic began her journey back to London, I rang up the wonderful [ profile] frogcastle to have one last conversation with her before her surgery. She went in today to have her tonsils out... so it will be a little while before she can speak to me again -- quite literally!

Tonight was my last ice skating class in the level one / level two course. Most of us -- myself included -- have registered for the level three course that begins in three weeks. Accordingly, the instructor went over some of the level three skills with us tonight. When the class ended, I stayed to practice for about an hour before making my way home. Besides the skills that I have learned in the past six weeks, I have to say that I simply feel much more comfortable on the ice. That may actually be more important, in the long run...

[*] That is 0.023 degrees above absolute zero -- room temperature, for comparison, is about 300K or 300,000mK.

[**] I am way behind at posting the results to recent games. I know that this disappoints many people. Expect a forthcoming post where I do nothing but report the scores from gaming in the past couple of weeks. That will give you something exciting to look forward to.

When last we left our intrepid hero, he was working in the lab late one night when his eyes beheld an eerie sight, preparing to leave the cryostat and go home.

Right about now, I am doing precisely the same thing. Except that it is not quite as late. Still, it is a holiday, and the start of the only four day weekend in England, so I should get some sort of credit for having spent most of the day in the lab. Of course, our group has nine people in it... and five were here today. So maybe not that much credit.

In between these late night laboratory sessions, what have I been up to? Wednesday night, I arrived home at a little after 1:30 in the morning. I rang up my beloved [ profile] frogcastle and we had a good conversation for an hour and change. Then, sometime after three o'clock in the morning, I collapsed into bed.

Thursday, I picked up where I had left off on Wednesday. The cryostat had bottomed out at around 20mK, which limited what I could do. I saw a very nice phase transition on the titanium detector (and, at such a high temp, nothing on the tungsten one), then warmed up and opened the fridge.

I left work relatively early in the afternoon and did some puttering at home. Then I picked up [ profile] cheshcat from her last day of work at her previous job. If there had been any doubt before about the reason she was let go, it has now been alleviated. Supposedly, her studio is re-organising, and her position will no longer exist. However, the re-org is months away and there is no one in the already overtaxed studio to do the work that she has been doing. Additionally, with only a week's notice that they were getting rid of her, there has been no time to properly train anybody to take over her tasks. She filed an appeal and met with some high muckity-mucks in the company. At the appeal, she argued eloquently -- not for keeping her on indefinitely (she has already begun job hunting and is somewhat relieved to be out of that dysfunction work environment) -- but to keep her on for another month or so, to make for a smooth transition. The appeal was turned down. Everyone in the studio was sorry to see Chesh go (and will probably be sorrier come next week when all the things she was doing are left orphaned) and threw her a big party yesterday afternoon. Basically, only management really wants her gone. Typical response to somebody who got involved in union organising. Feh.

After picking [ profile] cheshcat up (and dropping the presents she got at her party off at Skullcrusher Mountain), we drove into London. This time, the GPS unit died of a mysteriously crushed power cord and a dead battery. So we were left to navigate and drive our way through central London on our own. Whee! We survived, though, and met up with [ profile] ms_katonic and [ profile] envoy in Camden to see Jonathan Coulton perform. We had what I consider the best seat in the house -- front and center, right next to the stage. The show was excellent and makes me finally stop hating all my Chicago friends for repeatedly getting to see JoCo perform while I have been on this side of the pond.

When the show ended, [ profile] cheshcat and I drove back to Oxford and collapsed. Today I slept in until about noon -- making up for Wednesday's late night -- and have been working in the cryo-lab since shortly after. Yes, it is a four day weekend. However, I do not celebrate Easter and am, instead, planning to use the time to catch up on various and sundry projects... with a little time thrown in for fun.

The Fine Print: Yes, I know that there is a so-called "LJ content strike" going on right now (actually, it is properly a boycott, not a strike). While I approve of the reasons for this action, I do not consider it to be an effective means of achieving an end -- more effective, for instance, would be for holders of paid accounts to organise a month where they all go back to basic -- nor did I ever consent to participate. So while I respect those who have chosen not to post today, I will not be counted amongst their number.



anarchist_nomad: (Default)


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