One of the things that I love about Oxford is that it is small enough to get around easily by bus or push bike and, whenever you go out, you run into somebody that you know... whilst being simultaneously big enough that there is always something going on. Thus, although I did not leave the city this weekend, there was plenty to do and it made for quite a pleasant weekend, indeed!

On Friday evening, my beloved [ profile] bunnypip came down for a date. When she arrived, we headed into Jericho to get dinner at my second favourite vegetarian restaurant in Oxford -- The Gardener's Arms.[1] As usual, the food was quite good. After eating, I took her on a stroll through Jericho before we headed back to the Flat With No Name. Upon our return, the rest of the evening was spent locked in a room together.[2] Although we see each other frequently, too much of our recent time together has been group social time, or dealing-with-practicality time, or child time. This left us both quite eager for some time with nothing to do but be alone together... and so we opted to forgo the various options for theatre or a concert in favour of sharing some much needed quality alone time.

Come Saturday morning, both [ profile] bunnypip and I were quite happy, though moving a little slowly. Thus, I put her on the Oxford Tube at about the same time that I should have already been in city centre. Hopping on my bicycle immediately afterward, I arrived at the Town Hall twenty minutes late... but just in time for the start of the day's activities.

Just what were the activities of which I speak, gentle readers? It is a fair question... and -- fear not -- I shall tell you! Yesterday, to celebrate its 275th anniversary, the Oxford Society of Change Ringers had a ringing day. Those of us who were participating were divided into four teams that were to compete in five areas: (1) Ringing six bells down in peal and then up again, (2) Tune ringing on twelve handbells, (3) Ringing an Oxford method on eight tower bells, (4) Ringing Stedman Cinques on twelve tower bells, and (5) a trivia quiz. I am not experienced in tune ringing, which is very different than change ringing -- indeed, one does not even hold the handbells in the same way! Still, I joined in the handbell tune ringing competition.[3]. Our assignment was to learn Ode To Joy; we practiced for some time in the Priory Room at Christ Church, then gave our performance back in the Town Hall. I rang on the fifth and sixth bells of the twelve... and thought that I did reasonably well. Shortly after our performance, it was time for lunch... during which I had several enjoyable chats with fellow ringers.

As I was not participating in the tower bell competitions during the afternoon, I snuck out after lunch and met up with my darling [ profile] cheshcat for a trip to the exhibition hall at the Bodleian Library. The current displays were entitled Hallelujah! The British Choral Tradition and After Arundel: Religious writing in fifteenth-century England. The first display covered one thousand years of British choral music in various settings: in churches, at coronations, et cetera. There were a number of impressive manuscripts; true to form, my favourite was the oldest -- the Winchester Troper, used one thousand years ago at the Old Minster in Winchester[4]. The second display was smaller, featuring seven religions manuscripts from the early and middle of the fifteenth century. All were concerned with the suppression of heresay, in the aftermath of John Wycliffe and the Lollard movement[5]. Thomas Arundel himself, as archbishop of Canterbury, had fought to suppress the Lollards; these works were written as the legacy of that religious conflict.

Once we left the Bodleian, I headed back to Christ Church to rejoin the Oxford Society's Ringing Day. We had a group picture taken on the Great Stair of the college[6], then congregated to learn the results of the day's competitions. Our handbell ringing had come in a close second, out of four, in technical merit. Unfortunately, our artistic presentation was rated the lowest of the four groups. I think that this may have something to do with our choice to ring loudly; the judge thought that this detracted from the music. Ah well -- it was all in good fun.

When done with the Ringing Day, I rejoined [ profile] cheshcat, who was reading in Oxford's lovely[7] Bonn Square. We went out for dinner together, then headed to the Oxford Playhouse to see a performance of The Fiddler On The Roof. The Playhouse puts on many high quality shows and has hosted the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as shows headed to the West End. This production, however, was put on by the Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre. As such, it was very much a student production -- good, but not quite the same caliber as other shows that we have seen there. Perhaps I am a bit harsh here, but I have seen Fiddler twice before -- both times on Broadway -- and so there were very large shoes to be filled. A sixteen year old playing Tevye -- no matter how good -- is not going to compare to the performance I saw Topol give in 1990 or the one that [ profile] pomoloco and I saw Harvey Fierstein put on in 2005. That said, it was still an enjoyable show... and I always seem to forget just how difficult Fiddler is to watch. It is a testament to the potential of these kids that there performance still managed to tug on my heartstrings with the sad plight of Anatevka.

After the curtain fell, [ profile] cheshcat and I returned to our flat in Headington. Here, we continued making plans for our fifteenth anniversary -- which is coming up in less than four months -- and then ended the evening by watching the last two episodes of Smallville Season Seven.

Today, I began my day by heading out to St. Giles to ring for the Sunday morning services. Then I came home to meet up with the charming [ profile] dr_jen, who joined [ profile] cheshcat and I on our annual trip to Oxford University's Harcourt Arboretum. The Harcourt does not measure up to the fantastic Morton Arboretum that the Event Horizon is near in Chicagoland; however, it does have one advantage. For two weeks each year, at the end of April and beginning of May, the bluebells are in bloom. During that time, the Harcourt has a spectacular bluebell meadow, which is a wonder and a delight to behold. The three of us spent hours wandering around the arboretum, taking in the seasonal beauty. Thankfully, the weather was quite obliging and there was ample sun to take many lovely[8] photographs.

When we finally left the arboretum, which is on the southernmost edges of Oxford, we made our way to the Wolvercote, in the northernmost part, to get lunch at The Trout[9]. Sitting outside by the Thames, we spent a couple of hours enjoying a delicious meal whilst taking in the greenery and the waterfowl... including a very amusing trio of frisky ducks!

After eating, I dropped off [ profile] dr_jen and [ profile] cheshcat, then proceeded back into the city centre to ring for evening services at St. Giles. Amongst other things, we rang a couple of extents of Plain Bob Doubles, during which I finally realised that I have this method down quite well. Indeed, I find it safe to say that this is the first real method[10] that I am fully comfortable with. Yay for me! Next, I want to extend this comfort to Plain Bob Minor, as I would love to ring a quarter peal on this sometime in the not-TOO-distant future.

When we were done ringing the changes, I returned to Headington, picked up the first Sandman trade paperback, and headed out to Bury Knowle Park to read some more. It is not quite summer yet, but it is still nice to read outside in the evenings, just before the sun goes down.

Finally, that brings us to the present. It is still relatively early in the evening, but I expect to go to bed soon after posting this. There is a very busy week ahead of me, and I want to get an early start on it whilst also being fresh and rested.[11] Many pentacles need to be hammered in the coming weeks!

So, on that note, dear friends, I will end this entry by saying this: Happy Sunday to all... and to all a good night!

[1] The Pink Giraffe, whilst not strictly a vegetarian venue, holds the title of my favourite vegetarian restaurant in Oxford. Every one of their dishes can be made in a vegetarian form, with a variety of fake meats. As such, it is good enough for me to count as a vegetarian restaurant, since I can eat anything on the menu.

[2] Figuratively, not literally.

[3] Besides, it should give me some appreciation for what it is that [ profile] jadesfire55 does with her ringing.

[4] The Old Minster, built in 660, was the precursor to the New Minster which, in turn, was predecessor to Winchester Cathedral, which I visited last month during my birthday weekend.

[5] Wycliffe was a prominent theologian at Oxford in the mid-fourteen century... who was then kicked out for his heretic teachings. He did such devious things as translate the Bible into English. Terrible, really!

[6] Harry Potter fans may like to know that this staircase appeared in the first Harry Potter film, as the steps leading into Hogwarts.

[7] "Lovely" in this one instance meaning "ugly as all get-out." Last year, the city spent two million pounds renovating the square into something quite drab and awful.

[8] "Lovely" actually meaning "lovely" this time!

[9] Somewhat well known, in part, because of its mention in Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels.

[10] Ignoring non-methods like Plain Hunt.

[11] And I did not sleep enough either night this weekend!

Just ducked out of the T2K collaboration meeting party. Now I know what alcoholics feel like!

Until I was twenty-six years old, I was not really an omnivore. I was a carnivore. I ate meat. All the time[*]. In contrast, I only ate four vegetables: spinach, corn, broccoli, potato. I had considered the idea of being a vegetarian, but figured that I simply could not do it. What would I eat?

Eventually, of course, I did pluck up the will to go vegetarian. When I did, I had the good sense to not make the shift "cold turkey." I designed a "three-step plan" that lasted for about twenty-six months. I became full vegetarian at the start of 2004, and have been ever since. It is one of the most difficult things that I have ever done.

Sometimes, in jest, I will say that I am not a vegetarian but, rather, a "recovering carnivore." There is truth in those words. There are several foods that I miss, but most of all is Japanese sushi. Conveniently enough, I have not been in Japan since becoming a vegetarian... until now. Although sushi in the United States isn't bad, it is not in the same league. So resisting the temptation was not too difficult.

Tonight, however, at the collaboration party, there were tables and tables covered with catered sushi platters. One of my colleagues described it as tasting so fresh that "it tastes like it was alive an hour ago."

So, yes, now I know what alcoholics go through.

Indeed, there was also enough beer at this party to make it difficult for a recovering alcoholic. I don't drink... but I never have, so it is not even remotely tempting to me. But the sushi? I was practically having the shakes!

A couple of years ago, I contemplated allowing an exception for sushi if (and only if) I returned to Japan. However, I decided that this is not acceptable. I am a vegetarian. Ethics are not only to be followed when convenient. Nor do I wish to undo all the hard work that I did to give up eating dead animals in the first place.

So, ultimately, I was good. I ate tamago (egg) and some of the few vegetables that were available and fruit[**] and ikura (salmon eggs). CKJ, my graduate advisor, saw me eating ikura and accused me of "cheating." It isn't the first time. People always seem to be surprised when I eat ikura. I really am not sure. I am not vegan. If I eat chicken eggs, why does it surprise people when I eat fish eggs?

The party is still going on, but I left to do some work. Besides, I have limited patience for a party that consists largely of sushi and beer. Indeed, it seems like a waste of the ¥4000 that I paid to get into the party. If I can't eat or drink most of what is there, why bother? Maybe next time I will just not pay and show up anyway to socialise, sans consumption.

[*] Well, not whilst sleeping. But you get the idea.

[**] Including pineapple.

Utterly fantastic three day weekend! Friday was [ profile] cheshcat's birthday. She turned six[1]. To celebrate this milestone there was a weekend of festivities revolving around this event.

The fun began on Thursday evening, day zero, when I secretly imported [ profile] resourceress from Boston[2]. I conceived this little bit of sneakiness many months ago, and we had been plotting together ever since. When I arrived home with [ profile] resourceress in tow, I entered our [as yet unnamed] flat and said: "Hey, Hon? You will never believe who I met on the way home from work today!" Suffice to say, [ profile] cheshcat was quite surprised! Indeed, I believe the words: "This is the best present ever!" may have escaped from her lips. Suddenly, the plans to eat leftovers for dinner were cancelled, and we were on our way to Summertown to celebrate at the Mamma Mia restaurant[3].

On Friday, we all got up early and went into London for a day of museum hopping. We hit the Natural History Museum and the British Museum. At the Natural History Museum, we saw the 2008 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. It was, in a way, coming full circle... as we went to the 2005 exhibit shortly after we moved to England. As for the British Museum, this was our first visit... not counting the our visit to the First Emperor special exhibit back in March. Twas good fun, and I now have silly photos of me posing next to the Rosetta Stone, a quartet of Sekmeht statues, et cetera. When they finally kicked us out at 8:30pm, we drove back to Oxford and went out for a very nice birthday dinner at the Pink Giraffe. This is a Chinese restaurant in St. Clement's with an array of exceptionally good fake meat dishes! A most excellent choice!

On Saturday morning, the three of us went to Blenheim Palace to listen to a carol service and see the house decorated for the holidays. [ profile] cheshcat and I have been there before, of course, but it was the first visit for [ profile] resourceress so we did a tour of the house. The choral music was good and some of the holiday decorations were quite stunning -- especially the front hall and the dining room! What amazingly large trees![4]

After leaving the palace, we returned to our flat. [ profile] cheshcat was under the impression that we were going to get changed for lunch at a posh restaurant in the city centre... then drive to Manchester for an unspecified evening performance. Instead, she was greeted by a group of people[5] leaping out at her to yell SURPRISE!!! The party that followed was a huge success! In total, we had eighteen big people, plus two little ones. Indeed, our flat was just about at capacity! I made a grocery run for snacks with JTL... who ended up being a one-woman catering crew! Antipasti, quesadillas, vegetarian sausages -- you name it! She whipped up an amazing feast of snacks!

There were so many memorable moments from the party. [ profile] cheshcat received a set of jacks for her sixth birthday, which became a surprise party hit! I did learn that (a) jacks are dangerous for somebody with OCD, and (2) I am apparently on my way to becoming a jack shark![6] We also played two games of Werewolf, led by [ profile] alextiefling. I was on the winning side both times... though I was killed in each game. Once by my fellow villagers and once by werewolves! I can't catch a break! Several games of Set were also played, and I won the one where I took part.

At the end of the night, we transformed our living room into a slumber party. Eight people slept in our flat that night, and apparently our living room can fit four air mattresses with relative ease! Thanks go out to D&J as well as [ profile] dr_jen for loaning us air mattresses; also to [ profile] alextiefling and [ profile] friend_of_tofu for bringing their own to sleep on!

The party continued into Sunday[7]! After I procured a small feast for breakfast, seven of us headed to the Oxford Castle to see the Earth From The Air art exhibit. [ profile] cheshcat and I had already been there last month, but we only saw about half of the one hundred and twenty photographs on display[8]. This time, we finished up our viewing and brought friends along to appreciate the art. When finished, we chilled out warmed up in the castle's cafe for a bit. Then [ profile] cheshcat led a group of four to the Eagle & Child, whilst I brought the rest of our group on a walking tour of Oxford.

Eventually, the two halves of our party merged again and we went to St. Giles Church for Sunday evening service ringing. [ profile] mattp and I rang, whilst the rest of our group watched to see what change bell ringing is all about. For [ profile] resourceress, it was a return to the tower, as she was present in July 2006, when I went there for the very first time. With the exception of D&J, we all returned to our flat after the tower bell ringing finished. There, we were joined by JP and L&M for a handbell practice. This was most welcomed by me, as my London commute has prevented me from ringing handbells since late September! Also, everyone present got to have a go at handbell ringing! For [ profile] resourceress, [ profile] cheshcat, and [ profile] prolificdiarist, this was their first attempts!

Even after the ringing ended at 8:30pm, the party was still going on! I was surprised, but pleased, to see [ profile] cheshcat's party continue for so long! We made and ate dinner at home, then played a couple of games of Set (I won two and [ profile] mattp won one) then a game of Bohnanza ([ profile] prolificdiarist won with twenty points, I came in second with seventeen, [ profile] mattp and [ profile] cheshcat each had sixteen).

When our game of Bohnanza ended, it was one o'clock in the morning. The party that had begun thirty-six hours earlier was finally winding down. We brought out the air mattresses once again -- there were still five people sleeping under our roof. By morning, three of us had left to go to work in London, whilst [ profile] cheshcat went to her job in central Oxford.

If I do say so myself, this birthday bash was a phenomenal success! Despite all the complex plans, everything went off without a hitch! I was thrilled to hear nearly all the guests enthusiastically tell me what a wonderful time they had at it... and I am so pleased to give my beloved [ profile] cheshcat such a happy milestone birthday. Thank you to everyone who joined us!! Additionally, the one-two surprise of importing [ profile] resourceress and the party qualify this weekend for the list of Big Surprises that I have given to [ profile] cheshcat through our fourteen years together![9]

[1] In cat years.

[2] Due to a transporter accident, most of her hair ended up staying behind!

[3] No Abba connection -- sorry!

[4] Okay, they may not be large by Rockefeller Center standards... but these were indoors!

[5] One co-conspirator in particular deserves special thanks for arriving early, tidying the flat, and letting everyone in!

[6] No relation to my neighbour, the Headington Shark!

[7] Before it did, however, [ profile] mattp and I snuck out early to ring bells at St. Giles Church for the Sunday morning services.

[8] Fifty-three, to be exact.

[9] This is probably the fifth entry on that list.

Just got back from an Illuminati night at [ profile] wolfpeach's abode. Vegetarian sushi, good company, and world conquest -- a very fine way to spend a Friday evening! I am proud to say that I emerged from my game[*] victorious! As an added bonus, my win means that the extremely cute LT owes me a lunch[**,***]!

Off to sleep soon. Busy weekend ahead. Indeed, I was looking at my diary earlier... and realised that I am booked fairly solidly from now through about the end of January. Eeep! Better make sure that I don't get sick this Winter -- I simply don't have time to be out of commission at all! Not with several birthdays and holidays coming up, followed quickly by two collaboration meetings -- one of which is in Japan!

Which is yet another reason to leave LiveJournal for the night and go get some rest. Merry Friday to all, and to all a good night!

[*] There were enough people present that we ran two games in parallel.

[**] Or "dinner", as her Northern upbringing would have her call it.

[***] We bet lunch on the outcome of the game. Win or lose, the bet means that I get to have lunch with a cute woman sporting fiery orange hair... which is ultimately a win! (Clever I am!)

Just got back from the OUSCR Cheese & Wine BBQ party.

There appears to be a bit of a theme going on this weekend. Tonight was the aforementioned OUS BBQ party. Tomorrow I will be driving up to Birming'am[*] for a BBQ party to celebrate [ profile] thehalibutkid's birthday. And Sunday, assuming the weather is good and I am not feeling sick of them, there is a Pool & BBQ party. Can you guess the theme for this weekend?[**]

Anyway, back to tonight: At the end of each term, the OUS always has a cheese and wine party[***]. Since today was the last day of Trinity Term -- and the academic year -- the C&W was also a BBQ party. So we started at about 7:30 with a cheese party... and, in time, it morphed into meat (and meatless meat) party. Further on, the meat party transformed into a dance party[****]. Good deal, as I had not been dancing since BiFest last month. Some time around midnight, the dance party slowly started to change into a lots-of-people-gathered-around-a-computer-monitor-looking-at-pictures party. Which was not nearly as much fun. By about 1am, there was nobody dancing except me and one other person; the change to a LOPGAACMLAP party was complete. To me, that made a natural point for departure.

Overall, a fun evening. Now off to bed after I post this and then up to Birming'am[*] tomorrow. Sadly, the lovely [ profile] redandfiery has temporarily fled from Birming'am to France -- can't say that I blame her -- so I will not be graced with her presence. Alas! But it will be good to see [ profile] thehalibutkid and the extremely cuddly [ profile] sanjibabes and [ profile] oilrig and lots of other nifty people!

Right. Two more things, completely unrelated, and then I sleep:

Thing the first -- Yesterday evening, at St. Giles, I rang on an inside bell (the #3) in a plain course of Grandsire Doubles. This was a first for me and, thus, is noteworthy.

Thing the second -- It has come to my attention that there are people who are unaware of why my flat is named Skullcrusher Mountain. If you have not yet heard the brilliant song of the same name by Jonathan Coulton, I can only forgive you if you click here and listen to it now! It's safe, it's legal, and -- trust me -- it's worth the three minutes of your life that it will take to listen...

Sleepytime now. Assuming that anyone is still awake and reading this, good night.

[*] Apparently Brits pronounce "herbs" with the first letter because, as they say, there's an "h" in it... but they don't apply the same logic to "Birmingham", which -- you may have noticed -- also has an "h" in it.

[**] No, there will be no points for guessing this one. Too easy. C'mon, people, there are valuable prizes at stake with these points! Can't just give them away!

[***] Not to be confused with the Fermilab Wine & Cheese, which is a series of seminars.

[****] It is worth noting that, through all these transitions, the wine was a constant presence.

Spring is here, spring is here! Life is skittles and life is beer!

With apologies to all my dear friends in the Midwest, who are being buried under ludicrous amounts of snow, the weather here in southern England has been just amazing lately. The temperature is warm and the skies are sunny and clear. I have been wearing a lighter coat when I go out... or sometimes no coat at all. Perhaps it is premature to declare winter over... but I am going to do so anyway!

So what has the Nomad been doing in all this gloriously warm weather? Not posting in his LiveJournal often, that much is certain. Let's see if I can briefly catch the world up on my comings and goings.

Saturday was Brighton BiFest )

Sunday was a lazy morning, and we did not get out of bed until after noon. When we did, I drove [ profile] ms_katonic to a date with one of her other boyfriends. I made the following observation: It is a good sign that polyamory is working well is when, at the end of one date, your boyfriend drives you to a date with somebody else. Hooray for healthy relationships! After dropping her off, I drove back to Oxford under much the same conditions -- sun, speed, and singing to loud music -- that I had enjoyed on my way to Brighton the day before.

Sunday afternoon turned out to be less busy than originally planned. I had expected C&M to come over for a long walk -- we need to start training for our next attempt to walk across the Isle of Wight in May -- and to play Puerto Rico with [ profile] cheshcat. Then I was expecting to ring bells for services at St. Giles and to end the evening with a swim. I did ring bells, but all the other plans fell through. C&M canceled at the last minute and by the time the pool was open, I was feeling tired and decided to postpone for a day. Besides, I realised that Sunday was the last day that I had no plans until Saturday February 23rd[*] and I should take advantage of that. So, except for bell ringing, I stayed in and took care of boring-but-necessary household chores. [ profile] cheshcat and I also spent some fun time together: We played a low scoring game of Bohnanza (I won 10 to 8) and a game of Skip Bo (she won 30 to 17), then ended the day, by watching several episodes of Smallville.

Monday was a fairly ordinary work day. Nothing terribly exciting to report. I have undertaken to execute a set of major changes in the hardware attached to the K-400 cryostat; thus, there was no cooldown last week and will not be one this week, either. In the evening, I headed to the sports centre, jumped in the pool, and swam the mile that I had defrayed from the previous day.

Today, I spent a very large portion of my day finalising my application for another two years to remain in the United Kingdom. After [ profile] cheshcat double checks it, it should be ready to go into the mail tomorrow. Time to cross fingers. I also spent some time outside, running various and sundry errands. This was somewhat deliberate, as I wished to take in the still-spectacular weather. In less than an hour, I will head out for this evening's activity: bell ringing practice with the OUSCR at Mary Mag. Also, later tonight, I have a phone "date" scheduled with the delightful [ profile] frogcastle. We are currently in the midst of our longest separation, which will continue for another couple of months, so it will be very good to hear my Beloved's sweet voice once again.

Oh, and although I cannot go into detail in a public forum, [ profile] cheshcat continues to rock mightily!

[*] Oddly enough, despite a fairly full calendar, I seem to have no plans at all for the weekend of Feb 23/24. I am open to ideas and suggestions if anyone knows something nifty that is going on (within a two hundred mile radius of Oxford). However, I suspect that after being continually on the go for twelve days running, it would not be terrible if I stayed in that weekend to rest and deal with mundanities.

Only one chute this time, but it is a big one. I shall start with the ladders:

Ladder: Earlier this week, [ profile] cheshcat used some Quorn Mince to whip up some sloppy joes. They were delicious! I have a soft spot, left over from my misspent youth, for sloppy joes... but, due to my vegetarianess[*], have not eaten any since a trip to the Chicago Diner in 2005. Kudos to Chesh for making such a yummy dinner!

Ladder: The days are finally noticeably longer. As of Monday (Feb 4), the number of daylight hours in Oxford is finally longer than that of the shortest day in my hometown of New Yawk City. With each passing day, about three more minutes of sunlight is added, too.

Ladder: Yesterday evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I played another round of Bohnanza. This is a game where she is better than I... but I did manage to win for once, with fifteen points to her nine.

Ladder: My application to extend our UK visas for another two years is almost ready to be submitted. I spent a fair bit of time on this today, and the form is in pretty decent shape now. Hopefully I can mail it to the Home Office by Monday. Assuming this succeeds -- and, with my Highly Skilled Migrant status, it is likely -- then we will be allowed to remain here until March 2010. At that point, I will need to re-apply for Highly Skilled Status and re-apply for visas for another year. If that all works out, then in March of 2011 -- five years after [ profile] cheshcat and I first arrived -- we can apply for indefinite leave to remain... and eventually citizenship. So far, things look optimistic on this front, though it makes me appreciate the experience of being an immigrant and makes me very angry at folks (like my mum) who carry an anti-immigrant chip on their shoulders. Short of getting married for a green card (or the foreign equivalent[**]), I am about as privileged an immigrant as you can get: a doctorate, a job at one of the top two universities in this country, citizenship from a rich nation, and financial assets. And I am still investing large amounts of time to make things fall into place. I can only imagine how horrific it must be for those in a less fortunate position.

Ladder: During handbell practice at St. Giles tonight, I rang the tenors -- that is, the #5 and #6 bells -- on a plain course of Little Bob Minor for the first time. It went well. I also rang the trebles for a touch of the same. On tower bells, I realised that I am getting quite good at ringing the #2 bell for a plain course of Plain Bob Minor -- and even managed it without a covering tenor behind us (to tell me who to lead off of). To be fair, I have an extremely good memory for numbers and am definitely using it as a crutch. The #3 bell follows the same pattern but has a different starting point, so I doubt I could ring that bell for this method. I need to force myself to learn standard skills, like ropesight, that ringers with a less spectacular memory employ... and I made a request of JP tonight that should help me do exactly that. Meanwhile, I am having good fun at seeing all the spiffy new things that I can do.

Chute: By a terrible coincidence, Foxy and The Boy are both experiencing health problems, so soon after Totoro's death. These are not related incidents, as Totoro passed from renal failure and the other two have very different problems. Foxy (see icon) is losing weight at a dangerously fast pace. She was eight pounds when she moved to Oxford in Aug 2006. She was seven pounds two weeks ago. She was six and a half pounds this week. Her coat looks terrible. Other than that, her behaviour is quite normal. She is active[***] and affectionate and talkative. She does not appear to be in pain. We are simultaneously very nervous and hopeful this is a thyroid condition. There is evidence -- though not yet proof -- of this diagnosis, and it would be a treatable problem. Meanwhile, The Boy has a growth in his mouth that is increasing in size. We need to have it removed and biopsied to see if it is benign. Other than that, he seems perfectly normal... but the fear of a cancerous tumor is haunting us. The surgery to remove this growth is about £250. Already, since New Years Eve, we have spent £410 on veterinary bills. Although I worry about The Boy, our "war chest" is shrinking and so we are waiting to see what Foxy needs -- as she seems in the more precarious position -- before committing money to this surgery. It is a very delicate balance, and quite nerve wracking. I do not know how I would cope if I lost another kitty so soon. Any good thoughts or energy that you may wish to spare for my little ones would be well appreciated.

Ladder: On the other side of the pond, we have three kitties, as well. Nona chose [ profile] polymorphism to be her human and, thus, relocated from the Event Horizon to Nebraska when [ profile] polymorphism did. She seems to be settling in quite well. [ profile] gyades brought Stumpy to the vet this week for a rabies shot -- thus ensuring that she is still eligible to fly to the UK -- and she was pronounced to be in excellent health. Thank goodness! I am not sure how many more feline medical crises I could cope with. Chirp was elusive and, thus, is still due for a vet visit. I will keep fingers crossed, though I do not believe that there is any reason to be concerned about her well being.[****]

[*] Hmmmm... should "vegetarianness" have one or two "n"s in it?

[**] I do still tend to think in US-based terms. It is a bad habit, I know...

[***] For a cat that is three months away from her fourteenth birthday.

[****] Other than the fact that she is chronically obese. But that is not news.

anarchist_nomad: (Sunset over Key West)
( Jan. 12th, 2008 02:18 am)
LADDER: I bought [ profile] cheshcat an origami kit this week, to give her something fun to do while she convalesces from her injury. She seems to like it quite a bit, and it very good at it, too. She might end up needing a second book on the topic soon.

CHUTE: We have an altar or a shrine set up to Totoro now. We burn a candle on it daily. Also on the altar is Totoro's collar, a catnip mouse that we had purchased for him in the States (which he never got to use), and a stuffed knit likeness of Totoro that [ profile] resourceress gave to me last month, for Yule. I miss my kitty, and I think that both Foxy and The Boy miss him, too. Anyone with more Totoro stories to share, please let me know. We are collecting them and will compile them when we have enough. It is one of the ways that [ profile] cheshcat and I are working through this tragedy.

LADDER: Much as I hate to do product placement in this journal, I must say that Quorn mince is some very good stuff. [ profile] cheshcat made an excellent dinner for us last night -- pasta with a hearty "meat" sauce. Tasted fantastic... and we both independently realised that, with a slightly higher mince-to-sauce ration, we could make veggie sloppy joes. I have not had a sloppy joe in years!

CHUTE: This week's cooldown in the K-400 had to be aborted because the 1K pot was evaporating helium at a very rapid pace. This is the first failed cooldown in a very long time -- such a nice change from the first nine months, where the fridge did not work at all -- but it does irritate me. I have a couple of hypotheses as to what happened, but I will not know for sure until next week, when I break open the cryostat and take a look inside.

LADDER: Tonight, we took C&M out for dinner, to thank them for their recent help with cat care and for rides to and from Heathrow. We had a yummy Indian meal on North Parade (which, long time readers of this journal may recall, is south of South Parade). Then we came back to Skullcrusher Mountain to play Puerto Rico. It was a very odd game, and I played with nothing at all like my usual strategy. It worked, though -- I won with sixty-four points. [ profile] cheshcat came in second with fifty-five. M had forty-nine, and C had forty-two.

LADDER: Tomorrow, [ profile] ms_katonic is arriving from London for a weekend visit. This makes me both excited and happy. Need I say more?
It has been a mellow Sunday at Skullcrusher Mountain so far. I sit in the living room writing this entry while looking out the open window at Spring and at the hum of life on the Banbury Road. Here's a snapshot of what the view looks like as the cars, bicycles, buses, and people go by:

I have been somewhat sparse in my journaling this week, so this entry is meant as a summary of some of the thoughts and things that I have been up to of late...

Monday )

Tuesday )

Wednesday )

Thursday )

Friday )

Saturday )

Sunday )

And that's the week in review! Stick a fork in me -- I'm done!
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!!!
In Paris now... which makes it pretty obvious that the last minute planning worked out.

Although there is a net connection at my hotel, I do not expect to spend a lot of time on-line in the three days that I am here. Thus, today's update will be at double-speed:

Bell ringing: Last night I rang bells at Mary Mag with the OUSCR. I have paid my dues for this term, so I am officially a member. I rang called changes twice. In between, Claire brought two of us beginners and a couple of experienced ringers downstairs to do an exercise with handbells. It was a very silly exercise which involved lining up in our initial order, then swapping places physically as the changes were called. It was exactly the sort of silly exercise that seems very basic, and you laugh at it... but it teaches you a lot. They also demonstrated Plain Hunt Doubles (five bells) in the same method, for us to watch. As they were putting away the handbells, I asked if us newbies could try. I'm a Hampshire College student -- I don't get along well with just sitting and watching. Besides, as Sophocles said: "One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try." Claire was a bit surprised by my request, since we are still learning called changes, but there was no harm in trying. And it went well.

University stuff: Went to lunch today at Linacre College with SS, who is a theoretical physics professor at Oxford. I met him when I worked on Auger, as he had come to Malargue once or twice. We commiserated on being vegetarians in Argentina. I have seen him a number of times since moving here, but he only just noticed me on Monday. And invited me to come to lunch at his college on Wednesday. Members of a college are entitled to free meals in the common room. Linacre is one of the newest colleges, founded only in 1962. It is also a graduate college -- no undergrad students. So the dining hall was very different than my experience eating in the dining hall of St. Johns College last March. St. Johns is a moderately old college (founded 1455) and the richest of the colleges in the UK. At Linacre, the dining hall looks just like what you would expect of a modern upscale college dining hall. At St. Johns, the dining hall looks like the stuff of legend, with enormous portraits of past masters on the exceedingly high walls. If any of you recall the Hogwarts dining hall from the Harry Potter movies, it looked a lot like that. But not quite... since those scenes were filmed down the road in the dining hall at Christ Church College, not St. Johns. As a post-doc, I do not have a college affiliation... but there are ways to get one. I need to investigate further, because I really would like to be a member of a college. Preferably one of the older ones (16th century or older).

Travel: Mostly uneventful. Beat world 5 on the New Super Mario Bros. Finished the introduction to the Arden Shakespeare's version of King Richard III and began reading the play proper. Ate a very tasty ploughman's sandwich. For some reason, passport control at Charles De Gaul doesn't ever stamp my passport. Weird. The only real excitement of the trip came at the train station, when some plainclothes French customs officials wanted to inspect my bags. They flashed their badges... but I have no idea what a French customs official's badge looks like. So I wasn't sure if it were legit, or if these were scam artists trying to make off with my stuff. Long story short: It was legit and everything turned out okay. Don't know why they targeted me, though, and in the train station, no less. Doesn't matter what country: I hate cops.

Okay, time to get some rest before the meeting begins tomorrow morning. If I am going to keep attending meetings here, which seems likely as the French IAP (Institut d'Astro-Physique) is based in Montparnasse, I am going to need to make a Paris icon. Maybe one of my photos of either the Eiffel Tower or the Arc du Triomphe will work...
At the Treehouse in Conne(c)ticut now, visiting with Tinman and Flameweaver. [ profile] resourceress and [ profile] cheshcat are here, too. Today, we had a mellow evening, catching up on each others' lives. Tomorrow, [ profile] gyades and [ profile] sunastria and many others will arrive for the New Years Eve party. We have been spending New Years Eve at the Treehouse since 2003; this is our fourth year here. At the first such party, three years ago, I ate my last animal flesh -- shrimp -- before becoming a full vegetarian.

While looking back -- a natural thing to do at New Years -- I should note that the birth of 2007 means that I have been keeping this journal for about three years. My goodness, how time flies! Also, a recent date (Dec 26) carried importance as nine months since the move to Oxford and five years since my renal colic (read: "kidney stone") attack. The latter is particularly significant since, at the time, my urologist told me that people who get a kidney stone have a 50% chance of getting another in the next five years and an 80% chance of getting another at some point in their life. I have now beaten the first set of odds and, as a result, the second statistic drops to only a 60% chance of getting another stone at some point in my life. Of course, I will not know if I beat the second set of odds until I am on my deathbed... so no hurry!

This will be my final LJ entry for 2006. Have a great New Years Eve, everybody, and I'll see you all -- at least virtually -- on the other side of 2007! Still planning out my list o' goals for next year, but there are already some exciting things in store...
anarchist_nomad: (Guess who?)
( Nov. 26th, 2006 05:17 pm)
Back in Oxford now. Leaving for Italy tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile... Friday afternoon, [ profile] cheshcat and I went to London. We walked down Oxford Street, looking at the Christmas lights and the store window displays. The windows for the Selfridges building were particularly interesting, telling a weird conglomeration of fairy tales. Not exactly Into the Woods in terms of brilliance, but still cute. Eventually, we met up with DL and got dinner, sitting outside at an Italian restaurant. Ignoring all implications of global warming, it was nice to be able to eat dinner outside in late November! (Yes, I could do this regularly when I lived in Phoenix... but London isn't in Arizona)

Saturday, we spent the day at D&J's flat, where they hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for expatriated US-ians living in London and vicinity. It was a nice dinner party, with about nine people in attendance -- seven US expats, one Brit (partnered to an expat), and one Czech. As usual, I find that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the hardest times to be a vegetarian, but I held up. JL was particularly impressive in that she hosted the party and was required to periodically join phone conferences for her job. She executed the two rather seamlessly. About half the attendees are regular posters on the Daily Kos, which is where DL met them. Thus, it is not terribly surprising that the conversation was highly political in scope. Nonetheless, it was all in a friendly tone, with frequent breaks to tell stories, jokes, et cetera. Good food, good conversation, good company. All of which made for an excellent combination. However, one of my favourite parts of the evening was when I took a break to go stand out on the balcony, which overlooks the Limehouse basin. The night was mild -- following two bouts of torrential rain during the day -- and the water was calm and peaceful. In the not-very-distant distance, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf shone brightly. And, overhead, the sky had cleared, making some of the brighter stars and constellations visible. So, despite all the pleasant ruckus going on inside the flat, one of the highlights of the evening, for me, were the ten minutes that I spent by myself outside, enjoying the peaceful blend of water, city lights, autumn breeze, and stars.

This morning, I woke up early (8:50am) and hopped a coach back to Oxford, arriving just in time for lunch with the St. Giles bell ringers. It was a good and festive lunch, with about seventeen people attending. We broke up around 2:30pm and I have been in the office since then, tending to various and sundry. In a little while, I will go back to St. Giles to ring for the evening services.

Speaking of ringing, there was one very important detail that I left out of my previous entry. In addition to all the other nifty parts of this week's lesson, I also got my first instruction on how to ring a bell up and down. The bells that we ring are upside-down, thus enabling the full range of motion to be realized. However, for safety purposes, the bells are stored rightside-up. To "ring a bell up" is to move it to the upside-down position and "to ring a bell down" is exactly the opposite. I believe that it is the last major technical skill that I need to learn, and I had my first try at it -- with assistance -- this past Thursday. I definitely need much more practice, but I am happy to begin learning that skill.

After ringing at the church in about half an hour, the rest of the evening will be spent preparing for my trip to Italy. I leave in the morning and will remain there for two weeks. However, I will have internet access, as well as my mobile phone... so I should be quite contactable during that time (though the phone clearly will not work when I am in the underground laboratory).
anarchist_nomad: (Sunset over Key West)
( Nov. 20th, 2006 06:51 pm)
First things first: There are 41 days left in my "100 Days of LJ" project. There are 41 days left in 2006. If I miss no more days from now until the end of the year, I can finish the project on New Years Eve. Not bloody likely...

Next, this is bait... but it is also true: My dinner last night? Pasta with meatless balls.

Third, I found out today that I will be going back to Italy next week for a twelve day shift keeping the CRESST cryostat cold and the detectors running. Feh. Normally, this would not be a big deal. However, with only four weeks left before I return to the States for the holidays, there is plenty that I wanted to do in Oxford. Now that time is cut in half and the remaining six weeks of this year are divided roughly equally between two in Oxford, two in Italy, and two in the United States. And chaos ensues...

The two silver linings to this are: (a) I will be able to borrow a laptop from the department, which I can bring to Gran Sasso with me. This will maximize my productivity for both work and for scheduling my time at home for the holidays. And: (b) Since my shift ends on a Thursday night / Friday morning, there is a good chance that we will fly [ profile] cheshcat out to meet me in Rome, so that we can have a three day weekend there. The numbers and diaries[*] are being consulted now to see if this is indeed a feasible plan.

Fourth: When it comes to music, I go on spurts where I listen to one artist (or one style) pretty regularly for a period of time. Lately, and for the first time in quite a while, I have been listening to a lot of Tom Lehrer. I had forgotten how much I love his stuff! Moreover, I have decided that I want to be Tom Lehrer when I grow up. Only problem is, as [ profile] cheshcat was quick to remind me, it means that I have to learn how to play a piano...

Fifth, and finally: Liquid helium is currently being pumped into the Kelvinox-400 cryostat for what I hope will be the final diagnostic run. We have a hunch what is wrong with the abomination apparatus and, after logging the data from the upcoming run, we plan to consult with the experts at Oxford Instruments and have them send out an engineer (at £900/day) to fix it for us. After half a year of wrestling with this monster machine, I hope to see this problem fixed soon...

[*] In the UK, we use the term "diary" to refer to what people in the US call a "schedule book".

Back in Oxford again, after a fairly intense (and productive) trip to Italy. Here is what I've been up to:

Wednesday: Left Oxford in the afternoon with three colleagues. Finished reading Northern Lights on the plane, which is book one of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Started memorization of Tom Lehrer's The Elements. Began reading The Subtle Knife, which is book two of the aforementioned trilogy. Landed just before midnight and drove from Rome to Assergi with aforementioned colleagues. Arrived around 2am and collapsed from exhaustion not long after.

Thursday: Woke up around 7:30am and proceeded to work a twelve hour day on five hours of sleep. Installed upgrades and modifications to the CRESST electronics. Started learning how to maintain the S-1000 cryostat that CRESST uses. Most of the day was spent in the underground laboratory at Gran Sasso. So, although the weather in Italy was phenomenal -- especially for November -- I did not get to experience as much of it as I would have liked. Ended the day by having a nice dinner with several of our German colleagues. The CRESST collaboration is very insular -- much more so than any other collaboration I have ever been a member of -- so it was a nice change of pace to interact with some of my collaborators from other institutions.

Friday (day): Slept in until 9am, then made my way to the office buildings for a mandatory safety course. As expected, it was boring as all get-out. But at least it is done. After lunch, two of my Oxonian colleagues went back underground while myself and the other remaining colleague (VM) hopped a bus to Rome. I have learned that English coaches are much nicer than their Italian counterparts for one very important reason: Toilets! What began as a pleasant ride in the top front row of a double-decker bus ended up as an exercise in pain tolerance. Thankfully, it was a successful exercise...

Friday (evening): Hung out in Rome. Took the Metro from the bus terminal to the city centre. Although I have been in Rome before -- back in 2001 -- I had not ridden the Metro there before. Once I arrived in the city centre, VM and I wandered about for a bit, taking in the city. We ate pizza and gelato. We went shopping for wine. We explored the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, which is one of the four major basilicas and dates back to about 440 C.E. Overall, this was not a bad way to spend a Friday evening. Finally, we took a train to the airport and caught the last flight to London.

Friday (night): We landed at Heathrow around 11pm and got back to Oxford shortly after midnight. On the ride back, my boss told me that he wanted some drawings made up that night for modification to the top of our electronics rack. This was the workshop could implement the modifications on Saturday. So, upon arriving in the office, I stuck around until about 2am doing just that. Luckily, I had good music to keep me company in those wee hours of the night.

Saturday (day): [ profile] cheshcat and I began the day by going to the Oxfam One World Fair in the Town Hall. Lots of Fair Trade goods on sale, as well as people tabling from Oxfam, Greenpeace, the Palestinian Solidarity Group, Falun Dafa practitioners, the Oxford Badger Group, et cetera, et cetera, and so forth. The herald from the Lord Mayor's Parade (back in May) heralded the opening remarks, which were made by the head of the OOG (Oxford Oxfam Group), the Lord Mayor, and Phillip Pullman (of the aforementioned trilogy that I am reading). After the remarks, I got a copy of Northern Lights signed by Phillip Pullman before returning to the fair with [ profile] cheshcat. There was also a vegetarian "One World Cafe" where we ate lunch when we were done.

Saturday (evening/night): The rest of Saturday was spent being mellow and recovering from the fairly intense trip to Italy. I napped. I played Lost Cities with [ profile] cheshcat (I won). I pet and played with my adorable kitties, who were all clearly glad to have me home again... even after such a short absence. I watched several episodes of The Muppet Show with [ profile] cheshcat, as well as the pilot episode of Batman: The Animated Series, from 1992. Ah, I had almost forgotten how amazingly good that particular series was in its first season! I began watching it in my second semester at Hampshire College, in January 1993, and it became a fixed staple in my afternoon schedule. Despite the fact that I am not a television person! Finally, I ended the evening by finishing The Subtle Knife. All the travelling in and to Italy -- coach, train, plane -- had given me plenty of time to get through the book fairly quickly.

And now I'm back at work on a Sunday afternoon... preparing the K-400 cryostat for a diagnostic cooldown. Overall, life is pretty good.
Sitting down to LJ for the first time in the past week. Goodness, it has been a busy time!

[ profile] resourceress arrived in Oxford last Wednesday for a month-long stay. We ate lunch at the Noodle Bar and got her settled in, then I went back to work at the University for a bit. Got together later in the evening for a long walk around the city, past many of the Oxford highlights like the Carfax Tower, the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the Magdalen Bridge, the Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre, and the Radcliffe Camera. On the way, I found several more post boxes that I need to go back and photograph later. Also during the walk, we stopped in Cowley to eat dinner at an Indian restaurant.

On Thursday, both [ profile] resourceress and I worked. We met at mid-day for lunch at the Eagle & Child pub, eating in the Rabbit Room, where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein and others (the "inklings") used to meet each week.

On Friday, we left Oxford and started our road trip. We began by going to Avebury, where we saw the standing stones in the circle, and admired some of the town (e.g. the old dovecote). We also saw nearby sites of interest, like Silbury Hill (an artificial hill about 4500 years old) and the West Kennet Long Barrow (a large mass grave from about 5500 years ago). Then it was back in the car and off to Stonehenge. Stonehenge needs no further commentary. Once done there, we drove to Salisbury to see the cathedral there. Quite an impressive sight, containing the oldest functioning mechanical clock in the world (from the 1300s). The cathedral also contains one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, from 1215. The one at Salisbury is said to be in the best condition, though I won't know until I see the other three. After eating dinner at a pub in Salisbury, we drove to Glastonbury and checked into the Backpackers hostel there.

Saturday was spent at Glastonbury. We went to the ruins of the Abbey, destroyed in the 16th century after Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries. I chatted a "monk" (tour guide) from Binghamton, New York, that I had first met back in May. After exploring the grounds of the Abbey, [ profile] resourceress and I got lunch, then spent some time in the town. They are Pagan shops galore; quote [ profile] resouceress: "It's just like Salem, only more so." So we spent a couple of hours making our way through them. We also visited the Goddess Temple near the center of town. Then it was off to the Chalice Well gardens and spring, where we spent a couple of hours before climbing the Glastonbury Tor. Unlike May, when I climbed the side that has a gentle gradient, we went up the path on the steep opposite side. There was a large crowd at the top, but we were able to take some good pictures, nonetheless. Then we headed down the more gentle slope and back into town for dinner and dessert at an Italian restaurant.

Sunday we ate a traditional English breakfast (vegetarian style, of course!) before leaving Glastonbury and driving to nearby Wells. In Wells, we walked down the Vicars Close, which claims to be the oldest planned road in Europe. We also visited the Wells Cathedral, which is quite impressive for a relatively small cathedral. The outside stonework is very ornate. Inside, there is a very elaborate clock that chimes the quarter hours with kicking hands & feet, as well as jousting knights. When done at the cathedral, we looked in on the Bishop's Palace and walked around part of the moat. However, in the interests of time, we did not go inside... but instead hopped back in the car and went on to Bath. In Bath, we started out by getting lost once we left the car in the car park. With a little help, we finally made our way to the Bath Abbey and toured the inside. Although the Roman Baths are directly next to the Abbey, they are open later than any other attraction in town, so we walked North (and up) to the Museum of Bath at Work, which documents the history of labour and industry in Bath and the surrounding area. Then we visited the Museum of Costume and the Assembly Rooms, which had exhibits on fashion. Their oldest piece was a dress worn in the court of Charles II, back in 1660. After the Museum of Costume closed, we got dinner at a vegetarian pub and took a scenic walk around town, passing over the Pulteney Bridge (which is lined with shops) and walking along the river banks. It was a perfect summer evening, with temperate evening air as we walked by the water past old medieval architecture... while the music from an outdoor summer concert filled the air. Finally, around 8pm, we arrived back at the Roman Baths and spent the next two hours at the old bath houses, which also used to be a shrine to Sulis Minerva. You can drink a sample of the water from the spring, which we did... but -- goodness -- does it taste awful! When done at the baths and shrine, we drove back home to Oxford.

Yesterday, Monday, I went to work and started closing up the K-400 cryostat for another attempt at cooling it down to base temperature. I still need to write an entry about why I want to do this, I know. On my lunch break, I signed the lease for my new flat and then, at 5pm, I left work early (a short day meaning nine to five) to move out of the room that I was renting and into my new flat. With some help from [ profile] resourceress, the whole move only took a couple of hours. One of the easiest moves of my life. So I now have my own place to live here in Oxford! Excellent! And only an eighteen minute walk from work, too... (With my commute going down once I start cycling instead of walking) The price for this two bedroom flat is ridiculously high -- much more than the mortgage on the Event Horizon -- but for Oxford, the price is actually pretty good. I am quite excited about my new place, and I cannot wait for [ profile] cheshcat and our kitties to arrive next month! Anyone who wants my new contact information, the address and the phone number of the landline, should e-mail me.

Today, Tuesday, has been another work day. I took a long lunch break -- three and a half hours -- to meet up with [ profile] resourceress to buy essentials (e.g., dishes, pots, utensils, water filter) for the new flat. Then back to work, where the K-400 is partially closed and I am now pumping out the inner vacuum chamber.

And that, gentle readers, is the excitement of the past week...
Today marks two and a half years since I moved to Illinois... and there are less than one hundred hours now until [ profile] cheshcat and I leave for the airport to move to Oxford.

The immanent departure means that things are definitely getting down to the wire now. Today, I spent much of the day bustling about the lab preparing for my departure (or, as they put it, "termination") on Friday. I returned keys and my parking sticker and my cryptocard. I signed over my laptop, even though I get to keep it for a few more days. I spoke to payroll about my last check. I filled out the "termination questionnaire." Et cetera, et cetera, and so forth...

Besides wrapping up lab business, I also met with the person who is going to buy Pazu (my Honda Civic) from me on Friday and got a $200 deposit from him. Wow. Can't believe Pazu is going to be gone soon. I've had that car for over seven and a half years... it may not sound like much, but I have owned that car for 1/4 of my life! (And more than half of my adult life) I'd like to keep Pazu, but it really does not make sense if I am going to be gone for four years. We're also selling Lucretia I ([ profile] cheshcat's Dodge Stratus, the one that got stolen) to [ profile] polymorphism in July, which takes care of two out of the three cars. Not sure yet what we are going to do with Lucretia II, the Infiniti G20. For certain, we will keep it for [ profile] cheshcat to use until July. After that, I am not clear if we will keep it or sell it. Too far in the future to tell right now, and I am somewhat torn. It could bring in a fair bit of money, but it is also the nicest car that either [ profile] cheshcat or I have ever owned.

Speaking of endings, I also had my last muscle toning class tonight. It was the usual hour of pain, of course, but afterward a lot of people said that they would be sad to see me go. That was sweet, since I have only been taking the class since January, while some of the other people have been enrolled for a decade or even two. After the class, my instructor told me that she had something for me in her car. Supposedly, it was the "fabulous prize" for perfect attendance in the session that just ended. Actually, it was more of a going away present: Three books on SCUBA diving, one by my instructor (""Diver's Guide to the Kitchen" -- because she evidently does not know that I am a vegetarian) and two by her husband ("The 100 Best Great Lakes Shipwrecks", Volumes I & II). All three books were inscribed by their authors, which I thought was very sweet of her.

Ran some more errands on the way home, at the computer supply store (needed a Serial ATA-to-IDE converter) and the pet supply store (bought 120 pounds of cat litter and 60 pounds of cat food). Now I plan to spend the rest of the night getting more and more prepared to depart. And, I hope, possibly spare some time for a game of GO with [ profile] gyades.
Note #1 for the astute: Yes, I skipped one day when incrementing my "100 Days of LJ" counter. The reason for this is that I decided to save yesterday's entry for the, as yet incomplete, tale of the conclusion of our Buenos Aires trip. When it is finished, it will be the first time that I ever backdate an entry, but I decided to do things this way because I would prefer to keep all of our notes on the trip contiguous.

Note #2 for the astute: Yes, the subject line to this entry does say "Happy November 31st!" As noted here, it was necessary for me to stretch the month of November by a few days in order to accommodate the bi-monthly games party at the Event Horizon. As a reminder, the party will be taking place on November 33rd (also known as December 3rd to those with less imagination), which is this coming Saturday. If you are on my LJ friends list -- or trusted by somebody who is -- you can consider yourself invited.

Yesterday morning, [ profile] cheshcat and I returned to the Event Horizon after an eighteen hour door-to-door trip. Wow, it's winter up here, huh? Snow and all! I think I miss being in late Spring. Ah, well. [ profile] cheshcat took a nap to recover from the overnight flight from Buenos Aires to Miami. I jumped into the pile of mail that had built up over the three weeks that I was in Argentina, as well as the 1100+ e-mail messages that had arrived in my InBox during the week-long vacation in Buenos Aires. By now, all the important mail has been dealt with and the e-mail has been beaten down to only a dozen or so messages.

Other than getting settled back into my life, yesterday was largely uneventful:

In the afternoon, I went into the lab to listen to a colloquium on the Supernova Acceleration Probe (or SNAP), which is a proposed space telescope that would make very precise measurements of the so-called "Dark Energy." SNAP is a project that I would be very interested in working on if it ever gets funded. In today's climate, I tend to be a pessimist about such things. Next week's colloquium looks even more interesting; it is a talk that compares and contrasts the process of producing science fiction with the process of producing science, specifically theoretical physics. Hopefully I will be able to attend next Wednesday.

In the evening, after I got the emission inspection done for [ profile] cheshcat's Infiniti (big excitement there... ho hum), [ profile] gyades and [ profile] polymorphism and [ profile] cheshcat and I went out to get Mexican food for dinner. After three weeks of being a vegetarian in the "land of beef," I was damn tired of eating only salad, pizza, and pasta. So a burrito and nachos was a very nice change of pace... as was having some spice in my meal. Following dinner, the four of us went out to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I thought it was okay -- not great, but okay -- and I think that I probably had the highest opinion of it out of everyone in our group. The ride home was largely dominated by a discussion of how the movie could have been much better.

Once we arrived home, [ profile] polymorphism and I made a midnight shopping run, inspired by the revelation that I was out of antacid and needed some pretty badly. When we got back, [ profile] gyrades and [ profile] cheshcat had both already gone to bed. We talked for a little while, then I went upstairs to collapse from my very long day.

Probably the biggest news of the day was on the job front. While going through my eleven hundred e-mails, I noticed a request for an interview for a position at McGill University (in Montreal) working on observational cosmology. And, even more exciting, I received an offer for the post-doc position at Oxford University, working on a dark matter detection experiment. So, as of now, I have three upcoming interviews (Penn State, TRIUMF, and McGill) as well as two offers (U-New Mexico and Oxford). That's five replies out of the first six applications that I sent. Not bad! I did note that the Oxford offer does not include relocation expenses. Hey, [ profile] nw1 -- how much does it cost to relocate two people and their stuff from the States to England?

Anyway, that was yesterday. Today has largely been dominated by work and productivity, though tonight I will be going to Poly Karaoke with [ profile] polymorphism... and [ profile] cassiopia will be taking the train up from Urbana to meet us there!

Today's picture was taken at the site of the so-called "Club Atletico" in the barrio of San Telmo. This grim archaeological dig is located underneath the on-ramp to the Autopista 25 de Mayo (i.e. one of the main highways). The building that was demolished during the construction of the autopista was used as a detention centre -- complete with torture chambers -- during the military dictatorship that ran Argentina from 1976 to 1983. During that time, the military waged a Guerra Sucia, or Dirty War, on the population in which disappearances of the people who opposed their regime were common. The desaparecidos, or disappeared, number about thirty thousand. Many are believed to have passed through the Club Atletico. The site is now under construction as a memorial-in-progress, adorned with murals, sculpture, and other art. Today's picture is one of many that I took beneath the highway.

Being Sunday, today had a very different feel than the rest of the trip. [ profile] cheshcat and I spent most of the day in the southern barrio of San Telmo, which has an older feel to it than all of the other areas of the city that we have visited (e.g. Palemo, Microcentre, Puerto Madero) except for Monserrat, where the cabildo, the catherdral, and the Casa Rosada are located. On Sunday, San Telmo has a fair-like atmosphere, as Calle Defensa is closed to automotive traffic and set up with street vendors. In brief, here is what we did today:

#1) Sleep in after yesterday's adventure. Wake at noon, leave the hotel at 1:30pm.
#2) Stock up on supplies at local grocery store. [ profile] cheshcat saves a butterfly's life.
#3) Taxi to San Telmo and wander down Calle Defensa, browsing the local street vendors and wandering into an occasion store.
#4) Like a true junkie, get my fix of fresh squeezed orange juice.
#5) Walk down to Plaza Lezama and get lunch at a restaurant of the same name.
#6) Wander around the Plaza Lezama, alleged site where Pedro de Mendoza's founded the first Spanish colony in what would eventually become Buenos Aires. On Sunday, the Plaza is set up as a craft fair.
#7) Walk several blocks to see (and photograph) the mural Educacion y Esclavitud (Education and Slavery).
#8) Walk a bit further to see the site of the Club Atletico (see above).
#9) Take a taxi back to Calle Defense and continue making our way through the street vendors.
#10) Make our way up to the Plaza Dorrego around 6:30pm.
#11) Sit at a table in the plaza drinking agua con gas and jugo de naranja while watching the outdoor milonga taking place at the plaza.
#12) After finishing our drinks, move in closer to see the dancers better. A milonga is the way most portenos experience tango. These were not professionals; anyone could get up and dance.
#13) After leaving the milgona, we went about a block away to listen to some spontaneous drumming that had erupted. A good crowd gathered and the energy was lots of fun.
#14) Get our daily dose of helado while continuing to listen to the drums.
#15) Hop a taxi to the location of our evening's entertainment -- name not currently remembered!
#16) Arrive at the combination restaurant and theatre before anybody else, thus securing seats at the table right in front of the center of the stage.
#17) Enjoy a dinner of Spanish and Argentine foods, with special care taken by the staff to prepare vegetarian fare for me.
#18) After dinner, and immediately before the performance began, [ profile] cheshcat and I each received a surprise submarino from the waitress. I say "surprise" because it was not an option on the drink menu.
#19) Experience our first Flamenco show. While much more a part of Spanish tradition than Argentine, there are several Flamenco venues in Buenos Aires. After seeing tango at two dinner shows, one bar, and two milongas, we figured it was time for something different.
#20) Eat dessert at the show's intermission. I had a fruit salad -- very Argentine -- while [ profile] cheshcat had a Spanish custard.
#21) Watch the second act. [ profile] cheshcat enjoyed the Flamenco in "Strictly Ballroom" and was delighted to finally see some in person.
#22) Marvel that dinner plus the show for two of us had only cost us a total of forty pesos (about $13.50 USD), not counting drinks. Yes, we got half off by purchasing tickets at the equivalent of TKTS on Saturday, but that price is still amazing!
#23) Pay for our drinks, tip generously, and request that a cab be called to bring us back to our hotel.
#24) Return to the hotel. Update LJ. Make a plan for tomorrow. Get ready for bed...
It's 12:30am; in seven hours our car heads north out of Malargue and I begin the long (25 hour?) trip home. There's still a lot to do tonight, so I don't expect to sleep much. Par for the course. Before I go, though, I should update on what the rest of this trip to Argentina has been like.

For starters, after all the griping that I did about the weather, it finally cleared up on Saturday. Since then, it has been mostly clear, with a few wispy clouds, and the temperature has been perfect! In short, the past six days have been an utterly lovely Spring. One thing I won't miss about flying north is landing right back in the middle of winter's encroachment.

The weather cleared up just in time; on Saturday we all drove out to visit the site of our third telescope building, called Los Morados. When finished, the observatory will be about the size of Rhode Island, with the four telescope "Eyes" on the four edges. So the drive to Los Morados took two hours each way, covering over fifty miles -- mostly on dirt and gravel roads. The trip was scheduled to dedicate the LM building, which had just been completed, before telescope installation begins. It was marked with the usual trappings of our collaboration events: lots of meat and wine, plus speeches. This time the governor of Mendoza flew in to give a speech. Most of us hadn't eaten all day, making it difficult to concentrate on windbags that were keeping us from digging into the feast laid out before us. Even I, as a vegetarian, felt this -- that bread and cheese looked mighty good but was just out of reach for quite some time. Here is a picture of the Los Morados building, and here is a picture of the area of the pampas that LM will look out over. The second photo was taken from the same location as the first; I just turned around 180 degrees. And, just because it caught my attention, here is a picture of a funky rock that I saw at the LM site.

In other news, my cold is almost fully gone by now. Tomorrow, we'll see if an international flight brings it back. Those who have been concerned about [ profile] cheshcat's health should know that she is doing much better, and can read about it here.

What else? Well, with the skies clear again, I was finally able to do a little stargazing at the southern sky. I spent some time looking at the Southern Cross, Alpha & Beta Centauri, and some other sights only visible from the south. I also spent some time looking at constellations that are visible in the north, because down here they are "upside down." Canis Major (the big dog) stands on its head, for instance. The novelty of this has not yet worn off.

Work has been going a bit better. LRW and I made several trips out to our Central Laser Facility to work on the system there. This, as usual, is both fun and productive. On Tuesday, LRW wasn't feeling well so I drove the little Fiat back to Malargue; this was the first time that I have driven over the pampas -- about 26 miles, again mostly on unpaved road. Since today was the last day, we needed to remove some special hardware that we had installed for use during the past two days. I went out alone to do this, and it was the first time that I've gone out to the CLF by myself; twas lots of fun, with good music while I drove and worked. On the way back, I picked up a hitchhiker and drove him about ten miles down the road. Apparently hitchhiking is a common method of transporting one's self in Argentina.

One of the things that I like about working in the pampas is the number of animals that one encounters. When working on the CLF, it is not uncommon for sheep or goats or horses to walk by. We also see a goodly number of cows and dogs. On the drive to the CLF, we pass a pond (which is located on what used to be our road) that is inhabited by ducks and a flock of about a dozen pink flamingos. Very cool!

Finally, I should mention that a herd of goats is currently living about a mile away from the CLF. I first encountered them on Tuesday, during the drive back. The herd was crossing the road, so we had to stop and wait for them to pass. Goat breeding season must have passed not too long ago, because more than half of the herd was baby goats. They were the cutest, most adorable things (except, perhaps, for [ profile] cheshcat), and ran across the street making these high pitched "baaaaa" noises. Today, I stopped near their herd on my way out and on my way back; they weren't in the road... I just wanted to watch and listen to baby goats!


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