Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Road trippin'

After the meeting at Caltech myself and three other gravitational wavers have headed on a bit of a road trip around parts of California. We've done too much in the last few days for me to give you a full update on them all just now, but here's a list of most of it. Last Thursday we drove up to Mount Wilson Observatory, where Hubble made his observations that showed the expansion of the universe - it was very impressive. That evening we made the long drive out to Death Valley national park, where we spent the night (sleeping in the boot of our hire car) under the light of the full moon at the lowest point in the western hemisphere (Badwater Creek.) On Friday we drove back to LA, via quite a few other sights in Death Valley including Artists Rocks and Darwins Falls, and had a night in a motel in Hollywood. Saturday started off with breakfast in West Hollywood (home of many a star) before continuing the drive up the coast to Santa Barbara. That evening we went to a Saul Williams gig in a small bar called Velvet Jones. The gig was brilliant! The next day we woke up slightly worse for wear, but had a whale watching cruise to go on to get us through the hangover. We saw several Grey whales, dolphins playing around our boat, and leaping sea lions - amazing stuff. After that we hit the road (route 1) and drove around the very windy, but stunning, highway along the Big Sur coast. We spent the night in a cabin overlooking the pacific and took in a brilliant sunset. This morning we spotted another whale while having breakfast. Today we driven along more awesome coastal road to Monterey, where we took in the aquarium, and Santa Cruz. We are currently in the hippy-est hostel in the world in Berkeley. Basically so far the trip has been fantastic (I need more adjectives to say how good it's been.) When I get more time I'll probably write a bit more about some of these events and add in some detail. Hope you're not too jealous ;)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My god, it's full of stars

At the ripe old age of 90 Sir Arthur C Clarke has died. It's something I'd been expecting for a while (he was getting on a bit), so doesn't come as much of a shock, but is a pretty big deal to the sci-fi world. My formative science fiction experiences were certainly dominated by Arthur C. My dad had a reasonably extensive collection of his books and as a teenager I read them all, from the really early stuff like Childhoods End (which I actually did an English essay on at school) to the more recent collaborative Rama sequels. They formed my baseline for good science fiction and led to it being the almost exclusive genre that I now read (although I occasionally branch out into more mainstream fiction.) Some of my favourites books include the above mentioned Childhoods End, 2001 (obviously, although I read 2010 first for some unfathomable reason!), Fountains of Paradise and Rendezvous with Rama, although I can't say that there are any that I've read that I've not enjoyed in some way. He was also a master at short stories to and I've not found anyone that can match him in that area. I'll miss the fact that they'll be no more output from Clarke, but I think he's made big enough contribution and I'll be sure to return to some of his work in the future.

Relieving the boredom

Have you ever wondered what it sounds like if you strap eight guitars together and then hit them with a big stick? Well I can't say I had, but yesterday I found out when I went to see a band called Boredoms at The Music Box on Hollywood Boulevard. The band is Japanese and (currently) consists of three drummers and a guy who shouts, screams, jumps about, does various electronic effects and hits the eight-guitar-thing with sticks. The gig was pretty good, although rather intense and unrelenting, as you might expect from a band with three drum kits. There wasn't much in the way of subtlety or variation in any of the songs, which meant that it did get a bit samey at times. There were times when you'd expect a song to have a lull and then build up, but they didn't really bother with the lull... or the build up - it was all full tilt. At their best, when some tune started coming through in the music and their electronic effects were used effectively, they were very good - they sounded quite like Orbital, but with more drums. And in general the drumming was impressive, especially the tempo that they managed to keep up. I was knackered before it started and felt even more drained after watching and listening to it. Oh, in case you were wondering the eight-guitar-thing sounded good and looked cool, although it did require an extra roadie person to constantly tune and replace strings on each guitar.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Travelling light

I'm currently in Pasadena (part of the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles) at Caltech attending the LSC-Virgo meeting (one of our fairly regular collaboration meetings.) Unfortunately the majority of my clothes are not also attending the meeting. I arrived here last Thursday (13th March) evening, but my baggage apparently didn't get the same flight as me and has so far failed to arrive. Due to increasing feelings of skankyness from wearing the same clothes for several days I yesterday did a bit of a clothes shop, but have the feeling I'll be having to add to my new wardrobe in the next couple of days.

Complaining about my lack of luggage aside I have to say that I've been really impressed by Pasadena and the Caltech campus. It's really, really nice. And I definitely can't complain about the weather!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Matt's jumbo jambalaya

After seeing Rick Stein make a rather nice looking Cajun jambalaya at the weekend I decided to take myself on a taste trip to the deep south and make one myself. Here's my recipe below - note that I had a slightly sacreligious jambalaya as I wasn't able to use the complete "holy trinity" of onions, green peppers and celery.


  • 400g chicken breast
  • 1 large smoked sausage
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large pepper (as noted above this should be green, but I had to make do with a yellow one)
  • 4 pieces of celery
  • 1 green chilli pepper
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of hot chilli powder (approximately - vary as to your liking)
  • half a teaspoon
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 large mushrooms
  • sweetcorn
  • 1 mug of rice
  • 1 chicken stock cube in a pint of boiling water (or you could use proper chicken stock)
  • oil

Now the majority of those ingredients were just what I decided to put into my jambalaya, but you can play around with the meat and vegetable combo of your choice (Rick Stein had fresh prawns in his as well as the sausage and chicken, which adds to the whole Creole-ness of it.)

To cook this first you will need a large deep pan (generally a larger one than the one I had to use). Slice up your sausage into and place into your pan and fry in the oil for a minute or two. Dice your chicken and place into the pan and fry until it's white on the outside. Now add your chopped onion, garlic, celery and peppers and fry off for a couple of minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables and spices and again leave to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice into the pan and allow it to soak up some of the moisture already in the pan for a couple of minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Cover and leave to simmer for about 25-30 minutes. This should be enough to serve about three people, or two if both of those people are me.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Top priority

Despite the current funding problems at STFC it seems that the future's looking pretty good for the UK gravitational wave community. Yesterday saw the release of STFC's programmatic review (found here), which informs how funding gets distributed. In it the ground-based gravitational wave detector GEO600, and the upgrade to the LIGO detectors, Advanced LIGO, (which are a very large part of what the IGR group at Glasgow works on) were given highest proirity, and the future space-based detector LISA and its precursor technology testing mission LISA Pathfinder (also a major part of the Glasgow work) were given medium-high priority. The review is now in a three week consultation period, in which the Particle Physics and Astronomy community will discuss whether this is the way they want to go forward. Inevitably there will be people trying to argue their projects position up the priority list, which means that they'll also be people trying to argue that some of the things in the high priority section shouldn't be there, but in general things are looking pretty rosy for gravitational waves.

[Update: I should point out that despite there appearing to be two gravitational wave projects in the "High priority" category (Advanced LIGO and GEO600), these in reality should be just one project under the heading of "Ground-based gravitational wave detectors". They are part and parcel of the same thing and not two separate funding entities.]