Sunday, December 30, 2007

Let there be heat

This week I've been surviving without heating or hot water. As an early Christmas present my parent's boiler broke down leaving us shivering and smelly for the rest of the week. To wash we've reverted to more primitive methods of boiling up water on the stove in a big pan and taking it to the bathroom to splash over us - it's not quite a communal tub in the kitchen, but almost. We've also gathered together all our electric heaters and have had them on constantly. Luckily this week hasn't been anywhere near as cold as last week. My parents plan is now to get a completely new boiler as their current one is getting on a bit, so hopefully next time I'm back things will be toasty warm.

Today I get to have a much needed proper shower as I'm heading back to Glasgow!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cut it out

Just in case you're someone that reads this blog and aren't one of my friends who've already posted the link on their own site, go here to sign a petition about the snafu at STFC. In the words of the petition creator:

"Due to cost overruns the UK's funding agency for particle physics and astronomy, STFC, is recouping £80M with deep cuts to UK physics operations in these areas. These include ending the UK's involvement in the International Linear Collider - the next generation of particle physics experiment. This risks relegating the UK to second tier involvement in future research and critically damaging the country's standing within the community. Furthermore UK Astronomy will be seriously hit with up to a 25% cut in grants. This is incompatible with the government's stated aim of making Britain a world leader in science. A review of this decision has recently been announced and we urge the Prime Minister to press for another solution to this problem before UK physics is set back by decades."

I won't add my own thoughts on this as the internet is already awash with opinion.

[Update - it seems things aren't all a bed of roses in the US either!]

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Meetings end

It's the last day of GWDAW12 and I think everyone's fairly drained after a long week of talks, networking, and the odd drink or two - especially those of us who've been in meetings since Monday. It's been a good meeting and there have been some very interesting talks. The best talks have been those from people outside my collaboration (the LSC) and the general gravitational wave community. The main reason for this isn't that the gravitational wave stuff isn't interesting, it's just that I've heard the same stuff ad nauseum at meeting after meeting. The more astronomy related stuff just brings in something a bit fresher. I think this view is held by the majority of the gravitational wave people here. Chris Stubbs gave a very enthusiastic talk about how future astronomy all-sky surveys (e.g. Pan-STARRS, LSST) could give a large number of astronomical triggers for gravitational wave observations. He was even saying there are many current searches for optical/IR variables and transients which we should be aware of and make use of. It was very good to see an astronomer who really wanted to interact with the gravitational wave community, which can only be good news for the future. Jim Cordes gave a nice talk about general pulsar astronomy and looking for radio transients, which could again be used as a gravitational wave trigger. Andrea Lommen's talk on using pulsar timing measurements as a gravitational wave detector, generally for a low frequency stochastic background, was also good and related to some recent work that I've been doing. Andrea also mentioned that they're trying to host GWDAW13 at the Arecibo radio telescope, which I'm all for - Puerto Rico would be quite a nice place to go for the winter :)

Also of note about this meeting has been the quality of the lunches. I've been very impressed with the meals, which have been varied, tasty and generally quite healthy. Unfortunately we don't get given any lunch today and will have to find our own source of food.

Now I just have to hope that the Boston weather doesn't prevent me from getting home what with all the snow and ice storm that is forecast.

Friday, December 14, 2007

At the toad

Last night a few of us braved the arctic conditions to go and see a gig at a bar in Cambridge (Massachusetts, not Cambridgeshire) called Toad. We went to see a man called Ed Hamell, who had been described (by John) as a shouty man with an acoustic guitar. On arriving at Toad, which was rather smaller than our expectations had lead us to believe, we received a long, cold stare from the locals. We didn't allow this to scare us away and made our move to the bar before settling ourselves inches from the stage. The gig, which was a much a comedy set as a music set (in fact it's described as "... a one-man theatrical show which combines story telling, comedy and songs into a brilliantly outrageous theatrical event." on his website), was great (and free!) It kicked off a bit later than expected, due to a difference of opinion with some local frat-boy types, but when it started Hamell put in a lot of energy. This energy level, and friendly, fun atmosphere, just built up even more as the crowd grew on him and he grew on the crowd, and there was some general banter later on. He did fast paced songs mainly about politics and his family life and background. These spilled over, or built, naturally into his comedy. He was really good both musically and comedically. Apparently he's going to be doing some gigs in London early next year, so if you see Hamell on Trial advertised anywhere I'd definitely recommend going to see him.

Let it snow

I'm in the North East of the US and it's winter, so unsurprisingly there's been snow. Yesterday it snowed for a good 10 hours and unlike any attempts at snow that the weather makes in the UK it settled and left a good foot on the ground. It was pretty exciting for us snow starved Brits. Did I make a snow angel? Of course. Did I get snow in my shoes, up my trousers and down my back, and consequently feel rather cold and damp? Why yes, I did that to. Unfortunately the snow was too light and fluffy to hold together as a good snowball, so no snowball fights were possible.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cause and effects

Today I got round to figuring out how to get beryl to work on my Linux partition - I had tried before, but without any sucess. Beryl basically gives you lots of swish desktop effects familiar to Mac OS X users (and now in Windows Vista). So now I have a fancy desktop cube that I can spin around; my windows wobble and warp; and all sorts of other transparency, water drop, fire effects. Does it make using my computer any easier or productive? Well, probably not. In fact I'll probably just spend more time going "Ooooh! Aaah!" as my desktop spins around, but it doesn't half look good.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Notice anything annoying?

My first post from my latest trip to the US (yes, I'm out here again at another meeting) is going to be a bit of a moan (can a free trip out to Boston satisfy me, hell no!) On looking at the BBC news website out here some rather large banner adverts appeared saying "Notice anything different?". "Why yes" I thought, "There are some excessively annoying banner adverts filling up large chunks of my screen.". It turns out that the BBC have decided that they need to generate some extra revenue and when viewing their websites from outside the UK you'll have to put up with the adverts. I could get round this by viewing the site through a UK web proxy, but I don't think I should have to. I suppose I'll just have to get used to them until I get home again.

On other notes it's bloody freezing out here, but I think it should be a fun meeting.