Friday night. Just got back from the opening of the Oxford University Astronomy Weekend. Lots of familiar faces that remember me from last year. In just over twelve hours, I present my lecture for this year -- Recent Developments in Cosmic Rays.

The talk, which I estimate will be able forty slides, is just over half written. Oi! It is going to be a long night[*].

I am supposed to be a reasonably smart guy. You would think that, after all these years, I would know how to not stay up until stupid o'clock in the morning the night before giving a talk.

Ironically, last year I was nervous because I had never delivered a lecture to this sort of audience before, nor had I delivered a talk of any type at Oxford. This year I am nervous because last year went so amazingly well... and I find myself wondering if I can live up to my own example.

Ah, well. Time to press on. Last year, I finished writing by about two o'clock in the morning and managed to get five hours of sleep. Let's see if I can do the same tonight[**]...

ETA: Nearly one thirty in the morning now. Thirty-five slides down. Probably about six more to go. I won't be finished by two -- that much is certain. Still, I am also starting to feel good about this lecture, which is a very nice feeling. Also, I still have one more energy drink in reserve.

EFTA: Ten minutes to three now. Forty slides down. Three to go, I think. [ profile] cheshcat has been wonderful -- she fixed me a snack (cheese, humous, and crackers[***]) and surprised me by buying five energy drinks when I only requested two. So I still have three left in reserve. She has been taking terrific care of me. It makes me think fondly of when I was an undergraduate, fourteen years ago, and she would take similarly good care of me when I was up all night writing a paper -- then edit the paper when I was finished! With any luck, I will be done in an hour or so and get get four hours to sleep. The talk itself is either turning out better than I expected... or I am too tired to tell the difference. I think it is the former, though...

ESFTA: Four thirty in the morning. Finished. Forty-three slides. Whee! Time to sleep. Should be able to get nearly four hours if I wake up in time to listen to the talk before mine; five and a half if I do not. We shall see. All I need is rest (or caffeine) to get me through this and I should be alright. It is a good lecture.

[*] As I type this, my darling [ profile] cheshcat is taking a stroll to the corner store to pick me up a couple of cans of energy drink. I am loved.

[**] Any comments that you can make, gentle readers, would be greatly appreciated. Especially those of you in the States who are likely still awake. I may not have time to respond to them tonight, but they will bring a smile to my face as they break the monotony. If you truly have no idea what to say, just sing me songs of cheese.

[***] As we all know, cheese is love!

Having been back in England for slightly more than a week already, it seems that this is likely "now or never" time with regards to writing up what I did during my recent sojourn to the United States. Given what an excellent trip it was, the "never" option would be a true shame. So here goes with the "now"...

Monday December 22nd: Travel day extraordinaire! After staying up all night for Winter Solstice, I hopped a flight from London to Chicago. On arrival, I was met at O'Hare by the extremely helpful [ profile] xirpha, to whom I owe many thanks. [ profile] xirpha brought me back to the Event Horizon, where I stayed for less than an hour. After quickly dropping off some items and picking up others, I hopped in Lucretia II and started my 828 mile journey East. I began at about 4pm and drove through the night, arriving at the Jersey City apartment of the adorable [ profile] squeektoy42 at about 8am the following morning. This may have been a daft plan. Much could have gone wrong. The flight could have been delayed, I could have been too tired to drive, Lucretia II -- not driven in six months -- could have failed to start, the weather could have been prohibitive. However, everything ended up falling into place perfectly!

Total Miles Driven: 828

Tuesday December 23rd: Upon arrival in Jersey City, I hopped into bed with [ profile] cheshcat and napped for three hours. Then it was back to the land of the living to prepare for my date with the enchanting [ profile] perspicacious. She had moved to Manhattan just six months earlier. Thus, this was her first December there... and I wanted to take her about to show her the holiday sights that my native city has to offer. I have lived in a fair number of places over the years. Still, none have put on such a show for Christmas as New York[**].

We started our date at about 3pm and strolled up to Times Square. After a brief flirtation with the TKTS booth, we decided to pass on a show for the evening and went to dinner instead at a nearby Italian place. The restaurant was quite nice and the food was excellent... once we finally got around to ordering! (We were so engrossed in conversation that it took quite some time to look at the menu!) We shared two entrees, one of which was a delicious spaghetti with caviar -- something that I had never tried before. As we ate and talked, the night fell outside, setting the stage for our evening's adventures.

When we left the restaurant, we walked uptown to pass by Radio City Music Hall (and the giant balls across the street) and then hit Rockefeller Center with its gigantic tree. We watched the ice skaters down below from a couple of different vantage points and admired Prometheus in the act of giving fire. Wandering away from the Center, we stopped outside of Saks to appreciate the spectacular Carol of the Bells display there. For those who have never seen it, Saks mounts enormous snowflakes, made of LEDs, on their building. Every fifteen minutes, they play the Carol of the Bells, with the snowflakes flashing to accentuate the music. They choose a different version of the carol each year, but the effect is always breathtaking! In addition to the giant flashing musical snowflakes, the Saks windows always tell a story. This year's story was about Snowflake Mike -- a nonconformist flake who teaches the other snowflakes to be individuals!

Next stop was St. Patrick's Cathedral, just next door to Saks. I have walked by Saint Pat's more times than I can remember... but I think that this just may be the first time that I have been inside. If I have been in before, I do not remember. However, it was not until moving to England -- and visiting a fair number of cathedrals -- that I developed an appreciation for such things. Saint Pat's is, of course, quite modern -- built in the nineteenth century. It looks it, but it is still quite a beautiful place... with some impressively old relics inside! Besides being a wonderful place to visit, the cathedral was also a good place to get warm, as the night was getting progressively more chilly!

When we emerged from St. Patrick's, we walked slightly further North to look in the shop windows at Bergdorf Goodman, admiring the holiday display there. Then we were at the Southern end of Central Park... where I surprised my delicious date by offering her a ride through the Park in a horse-drawn carriage. The ride was amazing, with the park lights glittering beautifully off the freshly fallen snow as we cuddled in the carriage. Words cannot really do the experience justice!

I had requested a half hour ride, not realising that they were sold in increments of twenty minutes. However, I was surprised to learn that the cold and the snow meant that business was slow for the carriage driver. As such, he gave us a half hour ride anyway, throwing in ten complimentary minutes! I made certain to tip him well for that courtesy.

When the carriage ride finally did come to an end, we fed carrots to the horse. Then we made our way downtown to visit Macy's and their store windows. They had a cute display of Miracle on 34th Street on view, which we enjoyed. By then, it was quite late, so we began to head back to [ profile] perspicacious's apartment in Greenwich Village. We did so via the scenic route, though -- we took a lovely stroll along a riverside walkway, taking in the lights over the Hudson. One small surprise was that we passed by Pier 57, where I had been held as a political prisoner during the Republican National Convention back in 2004. It was... interesting... to see the building from the outside.

This was the first time that I have been to [ profile] perspicacious's apartment -- it is quite a wonderful space, and in a fantastic location! I love what she has done with it, and how she has been able to use such a small small so effectively -- as both a living space and a studio! She gave me my presents -- an excellent three-CD mix and an assortment of yummy baked goods[****] -- and we got to spend a bit of quality time together.

One of the primary motivators in making the long drive immediately after landing in Chicago was that it would get me to New York in time for this date. Indeed, it was the only day on which I could have seen [ profile] perspicacious, as she flew to North Carolina on the following day, not to return until after I had departed for Chicago. Although the journey left me quite low on sleep -- and our night together did nothing to make up for the lost rest -- I can unequivocally say that it was easily worth it to spend an incredible evening with this captivating woman!

[*] With apologies to the lovely [ profile] resourceress for stealing her title.

[**] Indeed, I was quite shocked and disappointed to find that London simply does not compare in this regard!

[***] Dinner and the surprise carriage ride had been my presents to her.

[****] To [ profile] perspicacious: Everything you made was delicious (as are you), but the truffles stood out as particularly excellent! Not just my opinion, but also that of those with whom I shared your gift!

anarchist_nomad: (England sightseeing -- Mind the monument)
( Jun. 21st, 2008 09:06 pm)
Good morning!

Yes, nevermind the time stamp -- I just got up a short while ago, having spent all of the shortest night awake at Stonehenge to celebrate the solstice with my dear [ profile] ms_katonic and the lovely [ profile] lydiasings.

This was my second year of spending the Summer solstice at Stonehenge. Just as I wrote last year, it was intense and fantastic! Druidic rituals at sunset and sunrise, fire, giant horns, drum circles, dancing upon ancient fallen Stones. All within a Stone circle that is five or six thousand years old... and in the company of about twenty-eight thousand close friends! Lets just say that the energy levels were pretty darn high!

Same as last year, sunset was at 9:26pm and sunrise was at 4:58am. Funny how that works, huh? With the long twilights, lasting at least an hour and a half, there were less than four hours of true darkness. Unlike last year -- which was clear until just before dawn -- there was complete cloud cover throughout the night and a light rain the entire time. Thus, instead of watching the sun come up from the Eastern edge of the Stone circle, we went to the heelstone at dawn to be in front for the Druids' ritual.

Due to the rain and the clouds, I got fewer nifty pictures than the ones that I took last year. However, here are a couple worth sharing:

Sunset at Stonehenge -- believe it or not, this is before most of the crowd had arrived!

Getting a bit intimate with one of the sarsen Stones...

As far as I know, no pictures of me ended up on the news this year -- my ego will just have to cope somehow!

Overall, Solstice at Stonehenge is an incredible experience and I expect that I will do it yet again next year. I know that last year, several people expressed interest in joining this year... but were not able to come for various logistical reasons. If you are one of them, mark your calendars now and come with me in 2009!
Back in the office now -- yes, it is an exciting Friday night, I know!

Just got in a little while ago from the opening session of the Dark Side of Astronomy weekend. The introductory talk was interesting, even though it did not teach me much that was new in the way of physics or astronomy. I did learn what my audience will be like and what level I should be speaking to. And I learned that the astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard had really lived a fascinating life! (Previously, all I had known about him was his star and his catalogue of dark clouds)

Of course, I wouldn't be me if I finished writing a talk earlier than the night before I had to give it. Thankfully, I am close to finished... which means that I will sleep tonight. Probably. Just another couple of hours and it should be done. Anyone who finds themselves near a computer in the next few hours, please feel free to leave some sort of amusing comment to entertain me as I slog along. It will mean revealing yourself to be having as uneventful a Friday night as the one that I am currently experiencing, but the effort will be appreciated.

Actually, as talks go, I have had fun writing this one. If there is interest -- and last year, there was enough to pressure me onto the programme when I had no intention of doing anything -- maybe I will show it at P**T*** in October.

Meanwhile, let me just wish a very happy birthday to the charming [ profile] ms_redcat before I get back to work! Thus ends the few weeks of each year when we are the same age. I hope that you have a wonderful one, sweetie -- hard to believe I've known you for nearly ten years now!
anarchist_nomad: (Road trip!)
( Mar. 28th, 2008 02:38 am)
Just got back from Birmingham[*], where [ profile] cheshcat and I helped the lovely [ profile] redandfiery celebrate her birthday. It was good fun, and nice to see [ profile] sanjibabes and [ profile] thehalibutkid again, too! Thanks to all of you for a fun time!

It does seem that I am completely unable to go to sleep before two o'clock in the morning lately. We did not return to Oxford until nearly two o'clock tonight. Last night, I was in the lab until five o'clock in the morning, cooling down the K-400 cryostat. Tuesday night, I was in the lab until one thirty in the morning... then came home to read, which kept me from sleep until about three o'clock. This is what a long holiday weekend does to me, I guess.

On the drive to Birmingham, I popped the David Rovics[**] CD Hang a Flag In The Window into the player. I have not listened to his stuff for awhile; doing so reminded me that I really need to get back into activism. It is hard to believe how absent it has been from my life for the past year or two, especially considering how much time I devoted to it for the five years previous to that.

During the drive back from Birmingham, [ profile] cheshcat and I opted to forgo the CD player; instead, we sang songs together from the early days of our relationship. It just happened -- we did not plan it -- but it was a nice way to reconnect... and there is an interesting feeling that comes with remembering so many years (and several lifetimes) ago with the person who I have shared them with. There was also one moment where Chesh's puppets made a snide comment so funny that I nearly drove us off the road, blind with laughter. Ooops.

Right. Time for bed. I realise that I have been negligent about updating this week. There has been a fair bit going on: A nine mile walk, gaming, video gaming, an evening with [ profile] wolfpeach, ice skating, and more cryogenic adventures. I will try to write about them soon... but for now I need sleep. (Especially since I need to be back in the lab in seven hours)

[*] No, not Alabama.

[**] It has occurred to me that Jonathan Coulton looks and sounds a bit like David Rovics, although the subject matter of their songs is entirely different -- geeky humor for one and radical left-wing politics for the other. In fact, Coulton now strikes me as what one would get if one cross-bred Rovics and They Might Be Giants.

anarchist_nomad: (Sunset over Key West)
( Jul. 13th, 2007 11:49 pm)
Two days in, it's been a pretty good vacation so far.

Last night, I went to Sidekick's for the unofficial Poly Karaoke gathering that I had called. There was a decent turnout -- a dozen people showed up, including [ profile] xirpha, [ profile] salexa, [ profile] sciffy_circo, [ profile] electronicrope, the ever-awesome [ profile] sweetsourcat, [ profile] randyjackson221, [ profile] raven_ap_morgan, and the lovely [ profile] iamthesphinx. Lots of fun, good people, and good conversation. I sang four songs; it seemed appropriate to begin with something by British Anarchists, so I sang Tubthumping first, then the Safety Dance, next Major Tom (coming home), and then ended the evening with more typecasting -- She Blinded Me With Science. Good thing [ profile] miss_tessa wasn't around, or else she would have smacked me with a telephone or somesuch.

Around midnight, things finally started to break up. I drove [ profile] iamthesphinx back to her apartment and got the "grand tour" of her new place. It was really, really good to see her again. I finally returned to the Event Horizon around 2am. At that point, it would have been quite a sane and reasonable suggestion to go to bed. Especially since I had slept only four hours, while sitting up on a plane, the night before. However, I just had to check LiveJournal first. As chance would have it, [ profile] kat1031 logged into AIM right after I hopped online. We started chatting, but quickly moved our conversation to the phone lines. It was nice to hear her voice again... for the first time in over fifteen years. To our mutual surprise, we each think that the other's voice has not changed. Go figure! This impromptu conversation was interesting enough to keep us on the phone for over three hours, until we were both about to pass out from exhaustion. We also starting setting up plans to get together next month, during the two weeks when I will be out in California. It was 5:30am for me (and 3:30am for her) when we finally got off the phone. I fell asleep immediately... and was so tired that I slept for seven hours solid without any disruption -- probably the best night's sleep that I have had in weeks!

Today, I woke up around 1pm. Very soon after, I called the lab in Oxford to learn the state of the cooldown and measurement. Then I did what nobody would ever expect of me: I spent the afternoon being mellow and relaxing. I don't do it very often -- I think I have now filled my quota for the year. In the evening, I got together with [ profile] gyades and [ profile] madandrew and [ profile] nyssa73 to go bowling. I bowled four games, scoring well on three of them: 154, 151, 122, and 150. After bowling, [ profile] gyades and I came home and hung out for a bit. Then I made dinner for us and [ profile] polymorphism. They both collapsed into their respective beds shortly thereafter and, with the Event Horizon party starting in eleven hours, I will go collapse into mine shortly after posting this entry.

As I said, a good start to my summer vacation. Looking forward to seeing many, many people at the Event Horizon party tomorrow. From the RSVPs, I am expecting quite a nice turnout...
I've long held that the reward for doing good work is more work. This explains why it is 6am and I am still at the University, sitting in the lab and taking data with the cryostat. I have been here since midnight and expect to be here for about another four hours. Not to sound like Dante Hicks, but originally I hadn't even planned to be here today. I get thirty vacation days per year -- and have used a negative number so far in 2007 once one factors in the weekends and holidays that I have worked. Thus, it seemed perfectly reasonable to use a vacation day today to recover after yesterday's all-nighter at Stonehenge. However, with the cryostat successfully cooled, there are measurements that need to be made... some of which require no one else to be using the lab, to minimize vibration. So here I am, making those measurements. With any luck, I'll be done by 10am and can get some sleep. Whee!

As for Stonehenge... well, it was intense and fantastic! Beyond words, really, but I'll try. We arrived just before sunset, as the Druids were starting a ritual within the Stone circle. Then the drumming and dancing began. I've danced at a drum circle before, of course... but never while standing on top of an ancient sarsen stone! I made a short video (45 seconds, 11 MB) early in the evening, just after sunset, that can be seen here.

As the night went on, folks continued to arrive, and it is estimated that there were 20,000 people who came to the Stones for the Solstice. I have now touched every Stone that is in contact with the ground at Stonehenge and [ profile] cheshcat has shared an individual blessing with each of them, just as she did last year with the Stones at Avebury. Amazingly enough, the sarsen Stones feel spongy! When you press on them with your palm, you can feel them give way gently underneath! Although many of the people were just there to party and get drunk, high, & shroomed out of their minds, we did talk to a lot of very nice and interesting people -- including some folks from Colorado who had flown over specifically for this event -- and got contact info from a couple of people who live in London.

It was a clear night, with great views of the stars, Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon. Check out this picture I took of the Moon:

Sunset was at 9:26pm and sunrise was at 4:58am, but there were long twilights, lasting at least an hour and a half. So there were less than four hours of true darkness between the twilights, lasting from about 11:15pm until about 2:45am. When the sky began to lighten again, we found a spot near the Eastern edge of the circle to watch from. Sitting against one of the sarsens, I learned that they like my hair. Every time I leaned forward, moving away from the Stone, my hair would stick to it and get held behind!

The clouds had moved in, and we received a light sprinkle, by the time the sun rose. However, thanks to a break in the clouds, Sol did make a cameo appearance which was cheered and appreciated by all. The Druids formed a torchlight procession around the circle as the sun came up. Not long after sunrise, there was a news photograph taken for CNN in which I can be seen in the background, standing between two sarsens slightly to the left of centre. The picture was brought to my attention by [ profile] resourceress and the URL for it is:

It is slightly odd to see a news photograph of me without law enforcement monitoring or pursuing me. I have been in a number of news publications before -- both in print and online (e.g., the New York Times, Yahoo! News, and several Georgia papers) -- but never without law enforcement sharing the "spotlight". Speaking of law enforcement and Stonehenge... it is quite nice that English Heritage spends the time and money to organize this free event each year since 1999. However, from 1972 to 1984, there used to be a three week festival at Stonehenge, beginning at the start of June and lasting until the Solstice. In 1985, Thatcher and Company decided to put an end to it all, which led to the atrocious police action known as the Battle of the Beanfield. Doesn't matter where you go -- I hate cops!

Anyway, it was an amazing night... and we'll probably do it again next year. Anybody want to come along? Just let us know...
Leaving work in a little while to get ready for tonight's trip to Stonehenge.

"What's that?" you may say. "Again?? Didn't you recently claim to be getting tired of visiting Stonehenge?

Well, yes, I did. Having been there four times already, I am getting a bit bored with the usual one hour visit that consists of a self-guided audio tour while viewing the roped-off ancient stones from a distance.

"Then... why?" you might ask.

Ah, but tonight! Tonight is different! To commemorate the start of summer[*], the ropes are coming down, and Stonehenge will be open all night for a solstice celebration! There should be drumming and samba and -- best of all -- we can go right up to those enormous ancient standing stones. What a sense of history -- spending the solstice in the same place where people flocked to do so all those thousands of years ago!

The party begins around 8pm tonight, with sunset at 9:26 and sunrise at 4:58. Things start to wind down around 8am... after which [ profile] cheshcat and I will hop into Peter, drive home, and get some [by then] much-needed sleep!

[*] Yes, I know that the solstice actually occurs tomorrow evening, at 6:06pm UTC. But tonight is when the celebration was scheduled for, so tonight is when I go.

What have I been doing since the May morning festivities? Good question!

Bells: After six hours of sleep during the day, I went down to Mary Mag on Tuesday evening to ring bells with OUSCR. The following day, I went back with several other learners to get a bell ringing lesson which consisted largely of ringing rounds a lot. Then, on Thursday, I practiced at St. Giles with that group. I think that this makes the first time that I have rung bells three days in a row. Besides ringing a covering tenor on Plain Hunt Triples (something I have gotten quite good at by now), I was once again asked to cover on the #6 bell for Plain Bob Doubles. Just like the first time I was asked to do this, I really had no idea what I was doing and needed vocal coaching to stay in place. However, I have been looking at the method diagram for Plain Bob Doubles... and I now believe that I can ring the covering bell just fine for the plain course. In fact, I specifically asked DR if we could try it again this coming Thursday.

Games: Besides ringing bells three days in a row, I also gamed three days running. After the practice on St. Giles ended on Thursday, I joined in the weekly gathering of the university board game club. Had time to play one game of Puerto Rico, which I won with fifty-eight points. [ profile] cheshcat came in a close second with fifty-five, but third and fourth place was far behind (45 and 40 points, respectively). Friday evening, we met [ profile] wolfpeach at the Slug & Lettuce. After schmoozing for a bit with our new friend, we taught him how to play Settlers of Catan. [ profile] cheshcat won that won, though it was close! Tonight, we had our weekly evening with C&M. I learned how to play San Juan and -- unlike my usual experience at a new game -- I did not win. C won with 36 points, [ profile] cheshcat had 34, I came in third with 32, and M had 24. Then we played Ticket To Ride, which C also won. Finally, we played Settlers and I scored an amazing win -- if I do say so myself. I was boxed in early and only ever had four points on the board. However, I bought many development cards and won by getting longest road, largest army, and two victory point cards.

On Sleep (or lack thereof): This has not been a week for getting adequate sleep. It started by staying up all night on Monday for the May festivities. I did sleep well on Tuesday, but not enough to recover. So I simply needed to get to bed at an early hour on Wednesday and all would be fine. Except that, just as I was getting ready to pack it on around 1:30am, I noticed somebody was on-line who I very much wanted to chat with. So, one lovely conversation and about three hours later, it was five o'clock in the morning. She went to get dinner and I fell into bed to claim my four hours of sleep. So much for catching up on rest! It's okay, though... it was worth it! Staying out gaming until after midnight on Thursday didn't help the sleep factor any, either.

On Spider-Man: Before meeting [ profile] wolfpeach on Friday, [ profile] cheshcat and I went to go see Spider-Man 3. It has been a long time since I lined up to see a movie on the opening day. I am just not much of a movie person... but I am a big Spider-Man fan. As for the movie, I liked it. A lot! And I suspect that not many other people will. This reminds me of 1992, when Batman Returns came out. I thought that the intricate plot was well crafted and intriguing. Most other people disagreed. No matter -- as far as I am concerned, this is the first time ever that a super-hero franchise has produced three good movies. Can't wait to see what they do with number four!

On Activism: I have been an Anarchist for a very long time. However, I have not always been an activist. I must say that, for the past twelve months, I have been only very marginally engaged in any social activism. There are a number of reasons for that, but today I put my foot back into the pool. I joined a local demonstration given by a group called SPEAK, which opposes an animal testing lab that is being build at the University. I have demonstrated with SPEAK once before, in April 2006. Their campaign in Cambridge prevented the lab there from reaching completion. Here in Oxford, their efforts have delayed the project by two years and cost the University tens of millions of pounds. It was good to be back in the street and working for a better world. I am always an Anarchist, based on my world view and the way that I approach my interactions with people. Being an activist is not essential to being an Anarchist. That said, it was good to get back into the fight...

Other: On Thursday night, I started doing a very good deed. Tonight I finished it. I am very happy to see this particular deed succeed...
It's closing in on three o'clock in the morning, but I want to play a little catch-up before going to sleep... before all of the past week gets lost to the fog of time. I'll starting at Beltane in this entry and write another one later covering things up through tonight.

Beltane in Oxford was the right choice for this year, I think. I arrived in the Port Meadow just after sunset, circa 9pm. Nothing much was going on. In time, I found two small groups with tiny fires, but they seemed to be private parties. Disappointed, I walked back to Skullcrusher Mountain to fetch my drum. I figured that either people would arrive or else I would sit in the meadow and drum until the sound brought people in. By the time I returned to the meadow, about an hour later[*], that atmosphere had changed completely. There was a nice bonfire going and about eighty people gathered around it. There was also music and dancing. I added my drum to the band, which had about four other drums as well as a guitar, violin, flute, saxophone, and clarinet. The night was cold, but the fire and the dancing kept me warm. By the time I left, at around 4 o'clock in the morning, my hands were hurting something fierce from all the drumming that I had been doing.

After leaving the bonfire and the meadow, I came back to Skullcrusher Mountain to drop off the drum and pick up [ profile] cheshcat. We called a taxi to bring us down to the Magdalen Bridge[**], where we watched the sun come up and the crowd gather as we waited for the annual sunrise serenade given by the Magdalen College Choir. After the singing was over, we headed up to Radcliffe Square to watch the Morris dancers. T'were many groups of dancers from all over Oxfordshire. We followed them up to the Bridge of Sighs on New College Lane, then went our own way down the Broad Street. As we went, we ran into many people that we knew -- colleagues, friends, even people I had met hours earlier at the Port Meadow bonfire. On Broad Street, there were more Morris dancers, as well as other performers. In particular, I enjoyed listening to the samba band. Finally, we headed to Frevd to get breakfast before [ profile] cheshcat went to work and I came home to go to sleep for the day.

Overall, it was a great celebration... even if it did leave me exhausted, and in some pain (from drumming and dancing too much). It was a good sort of pain. If I am still living in Oxford next year, I think that I shall skip the overnight parts -- delightful as they were -- so that I can split my attention between Beltane celebrations in Oxford during the morning and Anarchist demonstrations in London later in the day (rather than sleeping).

[*] Getting around on foot is somewhat slow!

[**] Actually, just next to the bridge, which had been closed off by police to prevent revelers from engaging in the moronic tradition of jumping off into the very shallow river below.

anarchist_nomad: (Doctor Nomad)
( Mar. 31st, 2007 03:07 am)
Had a very nice evening out with [ profile] cheshcat tonight. It is slightly after 3am and she just went to sleep. I should be sleeping, too, but I seem to have a bit of insomnia recently. I was awake until 5am yesterday, and who knows when I will fall asleep tonight.

That said, here is a snippet or two from today:

At work this afternoon, I successfully fixed a problem that one of my colleagues was having with the Hytec 1365 Ethernet Controller and its fiber optic modem. Kudos to me for getting a fairly complicated matter sorted out.

Not long after, I utterly failed to fix our electric kettle -- a ridiculously simple piece of work -- which has stopped functioning. I am fairly certain that the culprit is a dead fuse... but, due to the construction of the cord, I cannot seem to access said fuse to confirm my hunch and -- if correct -- to replace it.

You would think that, were I preordained to succeed at one of these tasks and fail at the other, the smart money would have been on getting the kettle fixed properly!
Flew back to the land of the fording oxen last night. Of course, it's been nearly a year since I moved here and I've yet to see a single ox in Oxford. Ah, well -- we all have our crosses to ox bear.

Anyway, this is a long and rambling entry, so I'll be kind and break it up into pieces which can be put behind cuts:

Passport )

Review of Richard III )

Moon )

Cats and Bats )

Physics )

Bells )

And I think that is all the news that is fit to print today.
YES!!! AT LAST!!!!!

In the room next to the next room sits -- hangs, actually -- an Oxford Instruments Kelvinox-400 helium dilution refrigerator. According to resistor thermometers that are thermally linked to the mixing chamber, this cryostat is AT LEAST colder than 20 mK. Not 4200 mK. Not 2730 mK. Not 650 mK. Colder than TWENTY millikelvin. Without properly calibrating the thermometers with a radioactive cobalt source -- which is on the "to-do" list for Saturday -- I cannot say more precisely how cold it is in there. One of our SPEER resistors tells me that the temperature is in the single digits.

Single digit MILLIKELVIN. (!!!)

I am probably just about the coolest guy on the planet Earth right now. Did I mention that I really love my job? Did I also mention that it is after five o'clock in the morning? JI, who has to teach a lab course in the morning, just went home. We spent hours sitting and chatting and watching and tweaking and waiting. And he got to eat a bag of my nacho cheese flavoured Doritos. I wanted to, but I couldn't... because I noticed that the bag says "not suitable for vegetarians." Who the hell puts dead animals into cheese corn chips? And why?!? Luckily, I had a stilton and mushroom bagel melt from G&D's at about 10:30pm.

Anyway, JI just went home to get some sleep. I don't have to be in as early as he does, but I still have a application to edit for [ profile] cheshcat before I leave. Luckily there is plenty of tea around. Organic Earl Grey to the rescue.

SINGLE DIGIT MILLIKELVIN! Gods -- isn't it amazing how much better things work when your equipment isn't broken?!? Now I can start doing some PHYSICS with this thing, rather than endlessly sparring to break through the 600mK barrier! The Oxford cryodetector group rocks! We have not one, not two, but three cold cryostats in the lab right now -- an S-400 dilution refrigerator at ~510mK so SH can do some tests for the cryoEDM experiment, a small double-jacketed dewar at 4200mK so SI and I can test the news SQUIDs and troubleshoot the old SQUID control boxes, and now a K-400 dilution refrigerator at < 20mK for......

[ profile] xhuglifex recently commented that I have the coolest job ever. Truer words were never spoken! And in more ways that one, too!

Current mood? Accomplished!
Current mood? Delirious!
Current mood?? Fan-freakin-tastic!!!
I write this entry sitting in the family room at the Event Horizon. All the lights in the house are off, save for those on our beautiful decorated Yule tree... which sits just a few feet in front of me.

The sun has just set, beginning the longest night of the year. Just before sunset, [ profile] cheshcat led [ profile] gyades and [ profile] resourceress and I in a candle lighting ceremony. The candles will stay lit throughout the longest night, as we also remain awake to wake up the sun tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, to get us through this longest of nights[*], we have the Yule feast, which [ profile] gyades will be preparing. We have presents to wrap and games to play. And we have ritual, also with [ profile] cheshcat as HPs, to perform. It is quickly getting quite dark, but we have much to do before we sleep again.

See you all on the other side...

[*] The concept of "the longest night" is an interesting one. As the charming [ profile] ms_redcat points out here, the days do start growing longer immediately after Solstice, but at a very slow rate. The change in the length of the day is fastest around the equinoxes and slowest around the solstices, simply due to the shape of a sine curve. So this is the Longest Night, but not by much compared to the days recently past and those about to come.

Further, the idea of this being the start of Longest Night is also correlated with geography. In the South, this is currently the longest day and the shortest night. Further North, this is the halfway point in the only night, which has been going on for three months already.

Finally, beyond the geographical changes in which night is longest, there are also personal nights that can be longer. For me, the longest night in 2006 was this past Sunday, when I flew from England to Chicago. The sun set just before 4pm GMT on December 17th for me. As my flight carried me along with the night, I landed at 7:30pm CST, already nine and a half hours into the night. However, the sun would not rise again until about 7am the following morning, making for a twenty-one hour night for me. evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might
beware my power:
Green Lantern's light!

Speaking of darkest night, I am learning first hand what it means to live at fifty two degrees latitude. Remember half a year ago, when I wrote about how awesome it was to have such a late sunset? These days, with less than a week to go before the equinox, the sun rises at 8:05am (not that I am ever awake before sunrise no matter what season it is) and sets at 3:55pm. In Darkest Night, indeed!

After the pantomime yesterday, I went to run some errands in the city centre. Walking down the pedestrian mall of Cornmarket Street, it was strange to see all the shops open in the dark. The shops around here all close between 5 and 6pm, so I am used to Cornmarket being nearly deserted when I have previously walked down it in the dark. Having night fully fallen at 4:30pm, with all the shops still open, was a little surreal.

As you may gather, from the contents of this post, life in Oxford has resumed normalcy, following my return from Italy. Of course, since I leave again in just over two days, it won't stay that way for long. However, for now things are ordinary: [ profile] cheshcat and I went to games night yesterday. We played Puerto Rico and I came just one victory point shy of winning! (I had thirty-seven points, the winner had thirty-eight) Bah! Humbug! Tonight I had another bell ringing lesson... and tried my hand at number seven for the first time. Previously, I had only rung the treble (number one) and number three. The bells are numbered by tone and, therefore, weight. Higher numbers have deeper tones and weigh more. I eventually got reasonable control of number seven, but it is definitely a much heavier bell. I have made contact with the University bell ringing club, which meets on Tuesdays, so when Hilary term begins in mid-January, I should be able to practice my campanology twice a week -- three times if I go ring for Sunday services at St. Giles. And, topping off the return to normalcy, I am writing this entry while topping up the liquid helium in the K-400 cryostat. A fair bit of progress has been made with the refrigerator recently, but that will be the topic of another post, most likely in January.

Finally, in preparation for my upcoming trip to the States, I should mention that the schedule posted here has undergone some changes. The new schedule is behind the cut.

THE CUT! (cue ominous music) )

For those who care not for long scheduling bits -- and who can blame you? -- here is the relevant summary:

Chicago people: Remaining chances to get together with me are (a) [ profile] cheshcat's birthday party on Tue Dec 19 (if you want to help her celebrate her birthday), and (b) join us for the King Tut exhibit on the morning of Wed Dec 20. If you are interested in doing the latter, I strongly suggest buying your tickets online now, before they sell out!

New York people: Remaining chances to get together with me are (a) afternoon/evening of Dec 28, (b) join me for seeing Manhattan at Christmastime on the afternoon of Dec 29, (c) come see a show with me on the evening of Dec 29.

Okay, that's about all I have time for now! Time to fight evil! Or at least finish filling the cryostat...
Thirteen days from now, I will be returning to the States. I know what you're all thinking -- "Again? Didn't we just have to put up with this guy just two months ago?!"

I am blessed with many friends, spread out over a wide geographical area in the US. I know that it is impossible to see everybody each time that I come back, but I do try my best. The purpose of this entry is to lay out my plans for the half-month that I will be in the States. Hopefully this will help optimize the remaining free time so that I can see as many people as possible. Of course, the best laid plans... and all that jazz, so things may well end up changing from what I write here. If plans do change with sufficient warning, then I will either update this entry or make a new one to reflect reality as it unfolds. But, with that caveat, this is the best that I know my schedule as of now:

Cut for length & to spare those who aren't interested in this pedestrian information... )

So there y'all have it. Yes, I know that my free time in Chicago is quite limited this time around. There are definitely going to be Chicago people that I want to spend time with, but will not be able to see this trip... and there will not be the usual Event Horizon party. I had toyed with the idea of diverting from my traditional New Years Eve plans at the Treehouse to throw a party at the Event Horizon. However, when I pinged people about this idea, it seemed that everyone else already had other New Years plans. So Chicago's loss is New York's gain this time around -- despite the fact that the Treehouse is in Connecticut (just trust me on this) -- which is quite the reverse from my previous two trips to the States.

Anyway, I am quite psyched about this vacation, as I always am about the holidays. For well over a decade now, when asked about my favourite holiday, I have replied that December is my favourite. Between [ profile] cheshcat's birthday (and, though I didn't know her at the time, [ profile] resourceress's birthday) and Yule and Hanukkah and Christmas and New Years... well, December 12 to 31 is just one long party! Hurm... I need an LJ icon of me wearing a Santa hat, don't I?

Hope to see some of you soon!!!

The fine print: Plans subject to change without notice based on unforseen events. Offer void where prohibited by law. Federal and State sales tax may apply.

It is done. Minutes ago, I dropped off the job application. I was at the office until nearly 5am last night writing it. [ profile] cheshcat, saint that she is, stayed with me to both keep me company and to edit the scribblings that I was writing down. When we were finished, we walked home and got a small amount of sleep before the plumber called at 8am and the person from the window replacement company showed up at 9am. [ profile] cheshcat further proved how amazing she is by fielding the plumber, the window guy, our landlady, and a call from a compensations supervisor at BT while I slept in until 11am. Or tried to sleep, given the drilling and other loud noises coming from window guy in the living room. After finally getting up, I ate breakfast -- also cooked by the spectacular [ profile] cheshcat -- settled my dispute with BT, and showered. Then I stopped off in town to buy resume paper before coming into the office to put the finishing touches on my application. And then, at last, I dropped it off. Whew!

So, yeah... wow. I have officially submitted my first application a permanent position. Holy macaroni! Logically, it seems ridiculous to assume that I have a chance. Professorships in my field are highly competitive... and a faculty opening at an institution as prestigious as the University of Oxford will be even more so. While I am reasonable confident that I will eventually be hired as an Assistant Professor somewhere, it seems far-fetched to believe that I have a chance at being hired by the first university that I apply to. However, as mentioned in my previous post, I have decided that I really want this job and, to be fair, I believe that I submitted a reasonably strong application. So it is time to keep my fingers crossed and hope like the dickens.

There is plenty more to write about right now, but I am too darn tired to focus... and starting to crash now that the application is at last submitted.
I primarily use this journal as a chronicle of my life, filtered for the public domain. As a secondary purpose, I sometimes share musing on various topics. Generally speaking, I do not use it for commentary on the news-worthy happenings of the day, as many on my friends list do.

However, the following snippet, lifted from an Associate Press article, caught my eye and was too good (awful?) to pass over for public comment:

NASA to Decide if Gap Fabric Needs Repair
Published: July 9, 2006

The early consensus is that it probably won't pose problems during the shuttle's re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, but engineers pulled an all-nighter to recommend what, if anything, needs to be done, NASA officials said.

Right. So NASA wants to reach a decision based on the recommendation of a team of sleep-deprived engineers. Somehow, this seems less than brilliant, and not indicative of a functioning "safety-culture."

As a physicist, I learned a long time ago that working when tired is usually a bad idea. Pulling all-nighters to make progress usually hurts, rather than helps, productivity. For instance, I learned that working through the night coding usually means spending the next two days debugging that code. Mind you, this comes from somebody long entrenched in the culture of all-nighters; at Hampshire College, I never began a paper earlier than 10pm the night before it was due. These days, however, I reserve my all-nighters for working on papers and talks, which require far less consciousness than the actual physics work.

But NASA thinks that working its engineers through the night is the way to decide what is safest for the astronauts? Hoy vey!
Still no luggage. Good thing I live here and have just about everything I need already. Otherwise it would be flashbacks to my visit to Mumbai last August, when I ended up attending the first two days of the International Cosmic Ray Conference wearing my travelling clothes.

Yesterday evening, being Wednesday, was board game night. Since the academic year is now over, only four people showed up. But that was enough for a game of Euphrat & Tigris. I've only played twice so far -- and last night was the first game where I properly understood the scoring system -- but I have not won yet. Ah, well... there will be other games nights! One person left and the rest of us started a game of Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, which is just different enough from regular Carcassonne to throw me off. I was leading for most of the game, but did not come out ahead in the end.

Last night, I suffered from a rare case of jetlag. It surprised me, as I went to sleep at a reasonable hour -- half past midnight -- on Tuesday and woke up at a reasonable hour (9:30am) on Wednesday. I tried to sleep shortly after midnight, to no avail. Instead, I passed the night with SuDoKu puzzles and random web surfing and instant messaging. Essentially, with things that would not consume enough brain power to wake me up further. Also, these activities were things that I couldn't really screw up by doing them in my sleep-deprived state.

Another consequence of my sleep-deprivation was that I experienced a bit of travel anxiety after I spent too much time thinking about how darn big Europe is... and how there is so much that I want to see although I might only be living here for a few years. In three months, all I have seen so far is Oxford, some of London, Avebury, Stonehenge, Isle of Wight, and Glastonbury. I want to see more of London, and Bath, and Stratford-on-Avon... as well as get outside England to Inverness and the Scottish highlands. And I want to see Dublin -- prominent in my thoughts, given my recent stopover there -- and the countryside in Ireland. And then there is Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Prague, Florence, Pisa, Amsterdam, Geneva, et cetera, et cetera. So, yes, my addled brain started to get anxious about how to pull this all off in the next three years. I suppose that it should not be surprising that the Nomad starts to feel angst when he does not travel enough. However, there are the beginnings of the beginnings of a plan for [ profile] resourceress and [ profile] pomoloco and I to spend a weekend in Ireland in early August. And I have a meeting in Paris in September, which could be followed by a weekend of sightseeing (hopefully with [ profile] cheshcat journeying out to join me). Still, it would probably be a good idea for [ profile] cheshcat and I to take a two week vacation to the continent next year, to see a few of the places on my list. After all, three years can pass by so very quickly!

Around 5:30am, I finally fell asleep. Five hours later, I woke up... despite a clear need for more sleep. Indulging that need leads to the eradication of a sleep cycle, as I know from too many experiences in years past.

Today has been a very good day. The weather is fantastic (shame that my sandals are in the missing luggage) and the sky is somewhat clear. I took a walk for lunch, getting a West Cornwall Pasty and eating it on one of the monuments downtown. This afternoon, as part of the "Oxford Science Open Days", I gave tours to groups of perspective undergraduate applicants and their parents. The tour was entitled "Dark Matter in the Universe" and encompassed both the physics (and astrophysics) of dark matter as well as the cryogenic equipment and detectors that we use to search for it. This was my first time representing Oxford University to the outside world... and I think I did a good job. I do believe that explaining physics to the layperson is one of my stronger skills. For my efforts in this task, I was rewarded (as were all the tour guides) with a free Oxford Physics polo shirt, which replaces the one that I left at the Event Horizon during my visit home. Since these shirts usually cost ten quid, the freebie was appreciated.

Also as part of the Oxford Science Open Days, the person in charge of the liquid refrigerants did a display with liquid nitrogen (LN2). He blew up balloons, then deflated them with LN2. He used balloons and LN2 to freeze his breath. He made solid nitrogen by lowering the pressure in a chamber containing LN2. And, of course, he used milk, syrup, chocolate sauce, and LN2 to make ice cream! So, besides a shirt, I received a freshly made scoop of ice cream in exchange for taking ninety minutes away from the computer to give tours of the lab. All in all, a very good deal for me!

Anyway, back to work. There is much to catch up on from the time that I was away. Also, since it is Thursday evening, I have the church bell ringing at St. Giles to look forward to in about two more hours!
Arrived in Boston early this morning, circa 6am. The last leg of Nomad's USA tour has begun.

Since posting the previous entry, I finished up my trip to Arizona on Thursday and spent Friday in New York City with Mom. Both nights were spent in transit: Thursday on a red-eye flight from Phoenix to NYC, Friday on the all-too-familiar drive from New York to Boston. I have now visited, on this one vacation, all four states that I lived in.

Highlights from the rest of the Arizona include several hours spent at the poolside, alternating between reading a book of David Eggers short stories, swimming alone, and swimming with [ profile] cheshcat. This was the first time that I have been swimming this summer; goodness, how I have missed being in the water! When I lived in Arizona, I made a regular habit of reading by the poolside until I got unbearably hot and sweaty, then jumping in and swimming around to cool off. This time, I did part of my reading in the poolside chair, and part sitting on the steps in the water... which was a nice variation on the theme. The big surprise of the day was this: I learned that if I spend over three hours in the Arizona sun in the middle of the day on the day after the solstice, I can get a sunburn. For the first time in my memory, I have been sunburned, with red over much of my upper body. However, the burn is more of a fascination than a nuisance, as it is practically painless. Having genes that evolved for five thousand years (or more) in the desert still comes in handy. In a day or two, I expect all the red to have turned into a nice brown.

After leaving the pool area, [ profile] cheshcat and I went to lunch with BN, and then I spent time at the Ash Avenue Comic Store catching up with [ profile] watchmelaugh as [ profile] cheshcat ran errands. When she picked me up again, we went to get crunched by our chiropractor, who is also a friend that I had not seen in nearly a year. Then we spent the evening listening to music at the local coffee house with [ profile] elven_sailor7, who I had not seen in about two years, and her husband. When finished at the coffee house, we grabbed our bags and headed out to Sky Harbor to catch our red-eye flight. All in all, I had an excellent two days in Arizona, where I got to partake in most of my favourite activities from the years that I lived there.

Once we landed in New York, we rented a car and drove to Mom's place. Mom had a very elaborate breakfast ready, after which we napped to recover from the night spent in the air. In Arizona, I had been able to get to most of my favourite activities in two days. In Illinois, where I spent more than half of this vacation, the extra time enabled me to get to many of my favourite past-times there, too... including the Event Horizon party and day trips to Urbana-Champaign and Bloomington-Normal. With only one day allocated for New York City, where I have lived in or near for 70% of my life, I had no pretense that this visit would be particularly comprehensive. Too many things to do and too many people that I know. Instead, this visit had the more modest goal of spending some quality time with Mom. On Mom's suggestion, we did ride the ferry into Manhattan and went to see Madame Tussard's wax museum. Then, on [ profile] cheshcat's initiative, we headed to the crepery on fifteenth street and eight avenue to get dinner. Unfortunately, it looks like Rue de Crepes may have gone out of business! Instead, we ate at a Thai place on the same block, which was a consolation prize but the food was still quite yummy.

The ferry ride back was quite pleasant, with the smell of salt and fish subtly riding on the cool night air. When we arrived back at Mom's place, we packed our bags and set out at 1am for our drive to Summanulla, [ profile] resourceress and [ profile] sunastria's home in the Boston area.


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