Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Celebrity zoo

It seems like it's impossible to walk around London and not bump into celebrities these days! Well, maybe that's an exaggeration - ok, it's definitely an exaggeration, but yesterday I did indeed walk passed a famous person on Oxford Street. Who was this megastar that I casually strolled passed without being overcome by starstruck awe? Well let's look at the clues. After being a Cambridge footlight he initially rose to prominence when him and his comedy partner won the 2001 Perrier Comedy award. Since then he has gone on to co-write and star in a string of cult Channel 4 comedies. Above his mantel piece he has a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank, who lives in a house like... ok, that's enough.

Those in the know will have guessed that it was none other than star of Darkplace, The IT Crowd and Man to Man, Richard Ayoade. The encounter went like this: When he was approaching me I was like "Hey, that looks like Richard Ayoade, star of Darkplace among other things", and then he got closer (close enough even that if I'd reached out my hand I could have touched him) and I was all "Hey, that is Richard Ayoade, star of Darkplace!", and then he went passed me and I was totally "Hey, you know who that was who just like walked passed me on Oxford Street, it was Richard Ayoade, star of Darkplace." The rest of London, however, went on as if nothing had happened! They just don't know how good they've got it, what with vaguely famous people walking on the very same streets that you or I can tread.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Get your motor running

Last weekend was Veitchfest (for those not quite in the know, Veitchfest translates as a trip to visit, and warm the flat of, our friend [and band-mate] John in his new home in the Midlands). This involved a jaunt down to Birmingham - unfortunately it wasn't a jaunt in the Alfred Bester sense - but required me to drive for several hours across vast swathes of the UK. I can't recount what happened at Veitchfest (what happen's at Veitchfest stays at Veitchfest), but I'll tell part of the story.

I was the designated driver for the trip, being the only person who could drive and of an age for getting insured by a hire car company. We hired an MPV, in the form of a Kia Sedona ("heavenly luxury and a down-to-earth price"), which provided ample space for our group. I'd asked for an automatic transmission car, being as the last time I'd driven a manual was in my driving test over three and a half years previously. It wasn't to be though and I got a manual car. I thought it would be pretty hard to get to learn the car, but it proved not too bad - mainly because it was a diesel which are far harder to stall than petrol cars. I felt quite at home to start with and was driving around Glasgow quite confidently. The next thing to do was go on the motorway - I'd never been on the motorway before. The motorway is in fact a piece of piss to negotiate. It's three lanes all going in the same direction! That wasn't my main problem. On going onto the motorway I got into 5th gear, but the car was making a fairly high pitched noise, the rev counter was in the red and the speed wouldn't go over 70 mph. I found this quite odd, but just assumed that diesel's were a bit weird and the car had a speed limiter on it. After a while of driving, and with the music on, I forgot about these problems. It wasn't until after a break in a service station, and re-entering the motorway that I realised that the car would go above 70mph and didn't have to make a whiny sound. We realised that prior to the stop I'd been in 3rd gear the whole time! I don't think the engine/gear box/clutch will have particularly liked it, but we made it the rest of the way to Birmingham and back in the car, so it can't have done too much damage.

The rest of the car trip was fairly uneventful although I did manage some fairly close shaves with cars, bollards, walls, multi-storey cars parks, etc.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


You may have heard about the Virgin train derailment that happened on Friday evening. It was a London to Glasgow train that came off the track in Cumbria whilst travelling at about 90 mph. What you probably haven't heard, as it's not really the main news story, was that Britain's top gravitational wave scientist (my boss, Prof. Jim Hough) was aboard the train. Luckily he was one of the few people that emerged completely unscathed. Jim isn't the first eminent UK gravitational wave expert to emerge from a major transportation disaster, as a few years back the University of Birmingham's Prof. Mike Cruise survived an bus crash in Austria. Hopefully these two aren't setting some sort of precedent for being involved in transport accidents.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A little to the right

Read this recent post from Cosmic Variance. It's about a new rival to wikipedia, called conservapedia, that doesn't hold too much hat with all the woolly liberal views that wikipedia expounds. By God, they aim to set things right and they'll do it by ridding entries of the scourge of liberal non-American spelling (see conservapedia commandment number 5) - non-American spelling leads to homosexuality, rape, and cruelty to cats, or something like that! Some of the entries detailed in Sean's CV post and comments sections are obvious piss takes and have been removed, however the posts on Atheism, Einstein and "Anything Goes" are still as stated - I think they might be serious! I know that wikipedia can sometimes have some dubious statements and citations for articles (which you're free to correct), but how's about this for a "true and verifiable" (commandment numero uno) statement:

"Since atheists have no God, as a philosophical framework atheism simply provides no logical basis for any moral standard. They live their lives according to the rule that "anything goes". In recent years, this has led to a large rise in crime[1], drug use,pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy,[2] pedophilia[3] and bestiality."

Particularly amusing/disturbing is that the citation [1] is to a website called

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Express yourself

Tony Blair's an arse! The Queen's a crack ho! Christianity smells! God's a bastard!

Now I like the fact that I can say and write these things, even if they're insulting to people. I like the fact that I can write them as my honest opinion, or as a joke. I like the fact that I can criticise people or institutions that I don't agree with. However, I might think differently if I was in Eygpt, as a blogger who expressed his opinion has just been sent to prison for four years. His crime was "for contempt of religion, insulting the president and spreading false information.", or basically speaking out against an establishment he felt was deserving of some criticism. This type of state censorship/punishment isn't limited to Eygpt (see the UK religious hatred laws for example), but I hope that it wont spread too far and too wide. There's a huge amount that has already been written about freedom of speech and civil liberties, but I just thought I'd bring up this case as a recent example of where things can lead. You can see more about the Egyptian blogger Kareem here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Flipping out

Just a quick pancake based post this having just been Shrove Tuesday, aka pancake day, and all. This evening I made up some pancake batter with about 4oz flour, 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and half a pint of milk (as described here - normally I just add stuff until it looks about the right runniness, but I decided to use other people's empirical experience this time round). This was all mixed together to the prerequisite consistency and then blitzed with a hand held spinny-bladey thing to remove any lumps - last year I did all the mixing by hand, but the electronic help made things a fair bit quicker. As is the way with pancakes you have to make sure the pan is helluvah hot before you try and cook one, or else it just become some sort of mess. I let the pan reach temperatures that would make the devil sweat before pouring in some mix. Normally I have one duff pancake to start with, but this one turned out fine. My pancake flipping skills were still there and hadn't atrophied from a year of not being used. I made a savoury filling of bacon, red pepper, onion, mushroom and tomato fried up, to go in my first two pancakes. With this went a liberal helping of grated mature cheddar and it turned out to be damn tasty. I can't have a pancake day without having the classic lemon juice and sugar pancakes though, so the remainder of my batter went on these - I was even generous enough to make one for my flatmate.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Where have all the white towels gone...

Today I discovered that, after months of threatening, the University of Glasgow gym (aka the Stevie) has removed their service of having small white towels freely available for exercisers. These towels come in useful for wiping your sweaty brow after a hard work out, and also wiping your sweaty imprint off the exercise machine you've just used. Unfortunately many people abused this service, and instead of returning the towels to the given receptacles for laundering at the end of their session, they would selfishly steal the towel. This even lead to an attempted towel amnesty by the gym, but I don't think it wasn't hugely successful, hence the disappearance of the towel service completely. Now we're left with the far lesspleasant scratchy paper towels to do the job of the old soft and fluffy cotton towel - maybe I'll just bring in my own flannel!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Look up to the skies and see

The last weekend I was away in the north-east of Scotland at a country house, near Edzell, called the Burn. The reason for this trip is that every year we take a group of the second year undergraduate astronomy student to somewhere where we will hopefully have clear dark skies to do some actual astronomical observations - Glasgow's just not really the place to get a great view of the stars, what with all the light pollution. Another reason for the trip is as a socialising (i.e. drinking) experience for the students to get to know each other and to hopefully encourage them to stay on to do astronomy in their honours years.

This was my fifth consecutive year of accompanying the students on the trip. There are normally about 5 or 6 staff, post-docs and post-grads that go along to supervise the students, but also for the observing and social aspects. I enjoy it, so I keep volunteering to go, plus I'm now a dab hand at assembling the telescopes we take.

We travelled up on Friday afternoon, driven by the experienced and trusty coach driver from Ann's Coaches of Kirkintilloch. The drive, given clear roads and no unexpected break-downs, takes about 2 hours 45 mins, and this was the case this time round. The Burn experience always starts with the house Bursar, Andy, giving a short history of the house and it's rules and regulations, followed by another Andy giving the more important information of the bar opening hours. One thing you can always count on at the Burn is consistency in their menu at meal times. They haven't really altered this in all my years of going there, but I find this nice and comforting. The food is prepared by "the girls" as the housekeeping/kitchen staff are affectionately referred to. Friday night, as ever, was vegetable soup, followed by mince and potatoes, with green beans. It never fails to remind me of my Grandma's cooking, as the way they do the mince mean it tastes and smells exactly the same as when she does it - I don't know what they do differently to when I make mince! Anyway, on the actual observing front Friday night wasn't particular good for us. There was pretty continuous cloud cover. Nevertheless, Ross and I did a short demonstration of how to assemble the Meade Celestron 5" telescopes we took with us, and we then got the students to follow our lead. Due to the fact that no observing could be done, we eagerly embraced the drinking option. However the Burn bar shuts at the early hour of 10pm so you have to make sure that last order is a big one and will last long enough in the night. With everyone stocked up on booze most people just sat around playing card games or chatting, but there was no extreme drunkeness as has occasionally in the past made it into the realms of infamy.

Saturday was an altogether nicer day and started off with bright sunshine. I made it down to breakfast at 9am in the morning (I've never missed breakfast at the Burn and wasn't about to start on this trip), but promptly proceeded back to bed after I've eaten as I'd only had about 4 hours sleep. After lunch of (who'd have guessed!) baked potato, some of us went on a walk along the River Esk. The river cuts a gorge close by to the house and has a really nice walk along its edge. The path along has many routes, some pretty precarious, down to the river's edge and it's always fun to scramble down these - in the past there's been some fairly risky bit's of rock climbing taken on, given that the river has some really fast rapid in it. This year a couple of the students decided to take a dip in the river despite it being bloody freezing - this is a first for a Burn trip.

That evening (after dinner of properly good fish and chips) the sky was still really clear, giving us the opportunity for some proper observing. There were only two planets up that evening (Venus and Jupiter). Unfortunately Venus wasn't showing any phase (at least that we could make out), but Saturn, as ever, was great to look at - and Titan was visible to. It's always fascinating actually looking at Saturn or Jupiter with you own eyes and seeing the rings or stripes in the atmosphere, and I can just stare at them for ages and not really get bored. The other objects that were observed quite a lot were the Orion Nebula and the Andromeda galaxy. The Orion nebula was really good when viewed through one of the larger Dobsonian telescopes we had brought. You could easily make out the trapezium of bright young stars in the centre, and a really extended amount of structured nebulosity. The Andromeda galaxy only really looks like a large fuzzy blob when viewed with the eye through a smallish telescope - if only we could adjust the exposure time of our eyes! Of the other objects we looked at the Crab nebula is closest to my heart, however it's distinctly disappointing when viewed with your eyes - I couldn't see the pulsar blinking! It was a good night observing in general, and everyone was just excited to get a good clear view of the dark night sky and appreciate what's actually up there. People got to see the band of the Milky Way properly, they got to learn a bit about how to navigate around the sky, and most people saw a few shooting stars.

After a bit of observing we had the Burn quiz. This is generally made up by the staff on the trip, and in previous years the post-grads have normally taken part in it - and won by large margins I might add. This year we put together the quiz, in part cobbled together from earlier quizzes, and partly new written by (mainly) Ross, Jen and I. This seemed to go down ok with the students. The night, of course involved more drinking, with the odd trip outside to stare at the sky for a bit longer.

I think I've written enough for now... oh, and lunch on Sunday was, of course, Chicken Kiev.

And then there were 8

After a very fortunate win against Ipswich on Saturday Watford have been drawn against Plymouth Argyle in the quarter final of the FA Cup. They're the only non-Premier League club left in the competition, which should hopefully make things slightly easier for us - although they'll probably be more up for it than some of the Premiership clubs left in, particularly Arsenal and Manchester United who gave lacklustre performances at the weekend and have still got replays to get through. The Cup run will hopefully give us momentum and hope for the league, in which we have a crucial home game against Wigan on Wednesday. If we win it'll pull us up to 18th above West Ham and Charlton, a only be four points behind Wigan.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reading into things

A lot of people seem to use their blogs to review books/films/tv shows/video games/restaurants/foods/drinks/whatever and I've decided to join in by reviewing (or at least briefly commenting on) the book I finished reading last night. It was Cities in Flight by James Blish. This book is actually a collection of four Blish novels following man's expansion from being bound to our solar system to having a galactic civilisation, and it spans an approximately 2000 year period of future history from around the present day to about 4104. The books weren't quite written in their internal chronologies' order, with book two being written first, followed by book one, and then three and four. I may give some spoilers here, but I'll try not to give away anything major.

Firstly I should say that I did enjoy this book, but it's definitely a book of two halves (I know I already said it's made up of four books, so in reality it's a book of four quarters). The first novel follows the development of the technology that allows humans to eventually begin flights to other stars i.e. faster-than-light (FTL in sci-fi speak) drives - called spin-dizzies - and what Blish calls antiagathics, or drugs that prolong human life almost unlimitedly. This book only covers a short time-span of a few years and holds together very well, with enough characterisation for you to appreciate the main characters and a really well developed plot that stays interesting throughout. The second novel jumps forward about a thousand years and we get to hear about the cities in flight of the title. Many worlds have been colonised in a first wave of expansion after the invention of the spin-dizzies, however things on Earth are fairly bleak. The spin-dizzies enable entire cities to lift themselves off Earth and fly about the galaxies to look for work on colony worlds. We hear of one city and a boy press-ganged onto it as it takes flight to find work. This story also takes place over a relatively short period of time and concentrates on this boy as the main character as he experiences first the harsh life aboard the city he was press-ganged onto, and then the completely different experience of being on New York - which had taken flight many years before and was well used to the wandering lifestyle. Again it all hangs together well and is a very compelling story which makes you want to hear more about the characters.

Things start to go a bit wrong in the third book. This is set a few hundred years after the previous novel and now concentrates on the travels of New York in its searches for work, with the major player being its Mayor Amalfi. The main problem with this book is that it spans several hundred years, which leads to the reader feeling that there are quite large inconsistencies in the time frame. This is because the characters don't seem to evolve as you'd expect that they would over such a period of time - this is on purpose, I expect, because the characters have such long lifespans (due to the antiagathics) that it's natural that things take such a long time to unfold. Unfortunately Blish a) doesn't really give the reader a consistent grasp of the time frame, so things seem to happen at very weird rates and b) the characters start to grate on you a bit. You just feel that you're missing something. This feeling caries on into the fourth and final novel, which mainly however grates because of the very weird physics it invokes (I know that FTL travel is weird physics, but it's a mainstay of much sci-fi)!

So basically I'd say that the first two novels are very good reads. The second two are ok, but just seem poor after what's preceded them. You basically end up wishing that Blish had carried on in the same vein, with maybe some of the characters, as the first two novels. If you've read the book and think that I'm completely wrong (or right) then let me know.

You can now look forward to my next review. I'll be reading Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson which is pretty thick, so it may take a while to get through. I hope it's on a par with Cryptonomicon which was very good.

Monday, February 12, 2007

One to watch

After a bit of pushing from my flatmate I've started watching the new (well newish as it started last September) NBC sci-fi show Heroes. I'm three episodes in and I'm hooked - this adds to the list of House, 24, Lost and of course BSG that I (or my flatmate) have to download each week. The basic premise of the programme is that there are a disparate group of people who have special powers, because they're the next step in human evolution! They're only just beginning to know about these powers, or start to feel that there's something special about themselves, and they're each coming to terms with it in different ways. This is all building up to some climactic event (which is pretty much spelled out early on in the series) during which I expect all the protagonists will be forced together and the full extent of there powers revealed. It's kind of a mix of the X-men (maybe a rather large part of the mix) and Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear. As I said I've been sucked in now, so will be eagerly anticipating each new episode.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Today I encountered an accident. A woman, who was a little worst for wear, fell over and cracked her head on the pavement. I rushed over to help along with another guy who'd been closer to her. Now I've encountered this sort of situation a couple of times before (with accidents of various seriousness), but am still rather poor when dealing with it. The woman had a fair bit of blood pouring from her head and was rather confused what with the fall, a bit of shock and her general drunkeness. My main response, other than being slightly bewildered, was to call an ambulance and hope someone else dealt with the situation at hand. Luckily a couple of medical students happened by who were far more equipped to deal with the accident. Now I know medical students can get a lot of stick, but I have to say that I was very impressed by these two. They had the right combination of dealing with the injury whilst also reassuring the woman and getting useful information from her. Doing things like trying to reassure and calm the person and even offer them a coat (which they did as it was still very cold) are common sense, but left my brain when really needed. All I could do was stand around sheepishly waiting for the ambulance to arrive. This highlighted to me how inadequate my own abilities were, but hopefully I've learned something for the next time.

Away win

We've done what's eluded us so far this season, we've got an away win in the league! Yes, you heard it, the mighty Hornets went to deepest, darkest East London and bested West Ham 1-0. Apparently we were deserved winner, but I'll have to watch the highlights on MOTD this evening. It's the same score line we beat them with to get through to the next round of the FA Cup (in which we're playing Ipswich next Saturday by the way). This bring us to a glorious 18 points (I know we're still bottom of the table), only 7 points behind Wigan in the tantalising 17th spot. I can see us staying up I really can (ok that's just a fevered fantasy, but I'll live it for a few minutes).

[Update: I just watched the match highlights and it game was pretty eventful. There were two penalties: the first one was for us, and in reality was a fairly soft foul, but Henderson slotted it home; the second was for West Ham, and maybe should have earned Gavin Mahon a red card, but the Hammers missed it. Phew! There were a few other near misses from both sides. Mackay cleared/deflected a goal bound Tevez shot, and Foster had to make a great save to keep us ahead. Foster did, however make a bit of a blunder when he dropped the ball in his area whilst Zamora was hassling him, luckily he somehow managed to snatch it back off Zamora before he could get a shot on. I'm just happy we got the win.]

In England rugby news we got a 20-7 win against Italy today. It was however a rather dull game compared to last week's Six Nations opener, so there's not really much to say about it.

I may be some time

Early this morning, walking home from an evening of poker at jakeybob and ellielabelle's flat, I found out what it was like for Scott of the Antarctic. I have a new found admiration of the madmen people who venture into the extremes of cold all for the simple joy of exploration. I think that the cold may have reached my pancreas and started to freeze it, and even then I only walked half way home before hailing a cab - I may have been fully frozen through if I'd walked the whole way!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cracked pottery

After posting the paper the other day I received an email about it - "Hmmmm.. maybe I'll get some interesting and useful feedback!" I thought. The person that emailed goes by the name "Doc" although I wont give his full name as it'll probably make me the number one google link for him. Now this guy was just passing on information about a paper he'd written back in 1980 which related to some of our work and telling me about a talk on gravitational waves that he'd been to. The paper is genuine enough and was even published in Ap. J. - I've not really delved into it yet though, but I'll try and read it properly. However the first wierd thing of note was that he'd cc'd this email on to one of the head LSC (our scientific collaboration) people for no apparent reason! Does he know him? Possible, as he is an MIT graduate, but a bit strange none-the-less. The next weird thing was when I looked at his affiliation, first on his paper, and then on some of the other things he's written (obviously my first response to getting the email was to google the guy) - see for here for example. Now the guy's probably great and in all fairness in his email he was just pointing out a potentially useful paper, but sometimes you just get those warning signs of potential crackpot flagged up. I just hope he doesn't read this now, as he was only being helpful and here I go casting aspersions about his nature, and all from one email!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Clouded judgement

Thanks to some very useful code from phydeaux3 I've converted my rather dreary looking list of post labels, into a very modern and fancy label cloud. It takes up far less space and displays the post tags with varying font size according to how often they are used - this will be familiar to many people as it's used on a large number of blogs already. I now feel I'm almost up with the times, now I just need to get that Trackback sorted.


After a long and gruelling process I've finally submitted the paper which provided the bulk of my thesis to the e-print arXiv - it's called Upper limits on gravitational wave emission from 78 radio pulsars. It's been over a year since the main results in this paper was presented in my thesis, but since then there have been a series of modifications, checks, re-calibrations, reviews, and then re-checks to make sure everything wasok . I can't take all the credit for the paper. As with all our results papers it's gone out under the authorship of the entire LIGO Scientific Collaboration (along with Michael Kramer and Andrew Lyne of Jodrell Bank Observatory who helped us with our pulsar data). During the review process there were very many useful additions to the paper in areas in which I'm no expert, along with the general selection of typos, re-wordings and grammatical corrections. And as it's a results paper we also acknowledge the great many people who got our detectors working to the stage where we can start getting results, and who maintain and look after the instruments for us data analysist's benefit.

The final process in the submission to arXiv didn't entirely go without a hitch as on first attempt it didn't like some of my LaTeX, but on second attempt it all went through fine. Now we sit back and wait for two weeks whilst the paper is perused by the Gravitational Wave International Committee (GWIC) before submitting it to Physical Review D.

Second home

In an effort to write-up my research/ideas/to-do-lists on a regular basis I've created a research blog. I did have a very basic version previously, but it was just a simple html webpage and had no features whatsoever. For this blog I've made use of wordpress as it has very easily installable software - I only had to get out local sys admin to do one thing which was set up a mySQL database for me. Hopefully this will encourage me to keep regular research notes, which will now be handily archived and tagged depending on the subject.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

One man army

After a year (well a bit more than that actually) of utterly dire play the English rugby team have finally put a smile back on their fans faces. We started off the Six Nations with a 42-20 victory against Scotland at Twickenham. This was thanks in a large part to one man - Jonny Wilkinson. Now there's a lot of hype surrounding Jonny's return to the England set up and it risks being blown out of all proportions, but his performance today was just great - and this is from someone who's been out injured and not played for England in three years, and who's only played 40 mins for his club this season! I think this injury factor makes people feel for Jonny a bit more than other players and adds to the hype. There's also the fact that he was one of our World Cup heros, which means in England fans eyes he's something of a legend. I can imagine it was a fair risk including him at all, but I think he showed why he can be so important to the team. Just talking about Jonny does a disservice to the rest of the team like Harry Ellis, but as I don't follow rugby much except for internationals I don't really know who the majority of the team are, so I can't talk much about them. One match can't tell everything though, so we'll have to wait and see if the team can keep it together and build up to something decent in this World Cup year.

And yes, I know that Jonny's try shouldn't have counted.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Oh, what a night!

So last night I stayed in the Van der Valk hotel (named, I assume, after the Dutch detective of the same name) in Hildesheim. Now Hildesheim is supposed to be a nice, fairly picturesque, town, but I didn't really get to see much of it as I was only there for an evening. My hotel room overlooked a very pretty, very German looking, square, but my main experience of it was the load bells that peeled every quarter of an hour. The hotel itself was very pleasant and had a good, homely, feel to it. My room was large although my huge double bed was covered by two small single bed duvets! One of the main reasons for going to this hotel was so that we could all get together for a meal with the PPARC delegates. The main restaurant was closed for refurbishment, so we were squeezed into a room next to the bar. The bar was filled with rowdy Germans watching Germany versus France in the Handball World Championships (currently being held in Germany). As I hardly ever order fish at the restaurant I decided to go for the Red Snapper (with rice and mango chutney). I was sorely disappointed though as my fish was bloody tough and chewy, although everyone else's meals looked delicious.

Tonight I'm in the Maritim hotel at Hannover Airport. It's huge, with a giant atrium with hangliders hanging from the ceiling. It seems to be set up to cater for business conferences, but I'm yet to check out the dining and drinking facilities. Hopefully they'll be decent, but it's not the ideal place to be spending a Friday evening.

[Update: I went out to dinner at one of the hotel restaurants (well the only one that was open) and had a great meal - far better than last nights rubbish (and that's not too harsh a way of describing it). As you expect from a restaurant I got the complementary bread, but this came in three different varieties and with butter and pesto - pesto goes very well on a nice piece of buttered bread, although I'd never put them together before. I then got a small complementary starter of some lamb wrapped in pastry and a lemon grass soup - as I said it was completely complementary and not something I ordered, but it was bloody nice. Next came my starter which was some rabbit with salady vegetables, but which also included some chicken wrapped in spinach! Again it was lovely. My main course was a venison dish which was sort of like beef wellington, but with the cow substituted for deer. This came with some fried red onion, some potato, carrot and turnip cakes, something bready that I couldn't identify, and (this being Germany and all) some sourkraut. It was great, and meant that I'd had a total of 4 different animals like a true carnivore. Finally I got a complementary chocolate mousse, which although tiny was very nice, and was made all the better by the fact that the waitress who brought it over was attractive. The whole meal was washed down with a couple of glasses of Weissbier. The meal was great, but the sad fact is that I was eating on my own. It does make me feel rather awkward sitting at a table on my own between courses just twiddling my fingers. After the meal I decided to have a drink in the hotel bar (called Bar Night Flight). After one pint I couldn't take it anymore. I can drink in bars on my own if there's some sport to watch, but just sitting at the bar nursing a pint whilst a lounge style piano player/singer warbles at you was too depressing for me (I also wanted to punch the pianist/singer as at the end of each song he'd repeat the last line in a whisper e.g."I wanna make love to you, baaabbyyyyy".)

Defender of the thesis

This evening I got to experience a live German PhD thesis defense (the equivalent of our British viva). This defense was for one of the PhD students at the AEI in Hannover who has worked on various aspects of the characterisation of the GEO detector. A German thesis defense (and I think this is similar across France and Italy to) is somewhat different than our viva. The defense can be attended by anyone, and this one had pretty much all the staff and students at the AEI in the audience - including a few of us visitors. It involved a 45 min talk on the work done by the student, followed by about 25 mins of questions from the thesis examiners, and then it got thrown open to the audience to ask questions. Being as we were in Germany the defense talk and questioning was conducted in German, although as a nod towards the fact that there'd likely be some native English speakers in the audience the talk slides were written in English. As the subject area of the talk was pretty familiar to me I managed to pick up all our gravitational wave type jargon. It was an interesting thing to experience, but I'm not convinced its how I want to spend many more Friday evenings.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Travelling salesman

At the moment I'm away on a whirlwind tour of Hannover's many hotels. I'm in Hannover to take part in a visit by our funding agency PPARC to our very own gravitational wave detector GEO600. Tonight we'll be schmoozing with the visiting dignitaries. Tomorrow we visit the detector site and then head back into Hannover to the Albert Einstein Institute where we will give a selection of talks. The upshot of this trip is that I'm staying in three different hotels over the three nights I'm here. Last night was the Holiday Inn and Hannover Airport. It's a pleasant hotel, clean and modern, and with spacious, well designed rooms. They do a good selection of beers and a nice cheese burger and the staff are polite. As with many of the large chain hotels they have extortionately priced wireless internet though! Tonight I stay at the Van der Valk Hotel in Hildesheim. Then Friday night will be in the Maritim Hotel again at Hannover Airport. We'll see how they compares.