Friday, June 26, 2009

Football on Riverside

Following an impromptu game of nighttime beach football at the GWDAW meeting earlier in the year, it was decided that there should be a more organised (and daylight) match at Amaldi. A group of 16 of us, made up from Europeans (a large chunk of whom were Italian, although unlike at GWDAW we didn't play Italians versus the Rest of the World), bar a couple of Antipodeans, went down to Riverside Park, in which we'd noted that google maps showed a football pitch-like shape. The shape we'd seen turned out to be a big astroturf pitch, which had a couple of baseball games going on in the corners and a football match in the middle. We tried squeezing in, but soon got informed by the coach (or some official-looking guy) of one the baseball games that we were supposed to have a permit to play there.

After some milling around and discussion of what to do we found a nearby patch of park ground that wasn't covered in trees (or fences designed to discourage ball games, which were quite liberally scattered around the most open of spaces) that would make a serviceable pitch. It had quite a slope on one side and was pretty uneven, but we made do. The game took a little while to get going and most people were showing signs of general lack of fitness, but towards the end (of our arbitrarily designated match time) we had a reasonable, and competitive, match going on. It was at 3-3, so we had a next goal wins situation, which through some brilliant touches of skill I scored.

I could definitely feel the effects of the match the next day as my left knee was suffering.

Intergalactic planetary

As with all major meeting's this one had a conference dinner - it was, rather impressively, held in the American Museum of Natural History. The highlight of the night was getting to go into the planetarium there and being shown a fly through of their very nice software for visualising the universe (well, we didn't fly through their software in the sense of having code projected onto the Planetarium ceiling and scrolling through it - we saw pretty pictures). The software tries to make as much use as possible of real astronomical data sets, so it doesn't project up artists impressions, or simulations (other than it's representation of the Milky Way as observed from outside), but tries to be a close to reality as allowable from current knowledge. All the data went together pretty seamlessly (they said that there are a few bugs to iron out, but it worked surprisingly well for a beta version - we were in essence getting a sneak peak that the generally lay-public won't get to see quite yet), from the visualisation of the Earth and it's satellites (after having zoomed out from a view of Manhattan) all the way out to the 2dF and SDSS galaxy and quasar surveys. One thing we got to do in the planetarium that you don't normally get to do (in big museum-style planetariums at least), was to lie on the floor in the middle and look up - it's a cool way to view it and saves you from getting a crick in your neck. Being able to observe the 2dF and Tully (a big space cube) surveys in 3D was cool, and looking down the 2 degree field beams was a way I'd never seen it before.

Apparently all the software that they use will be freely available at some point, but I forget who's developing it and where it lives. I think it's partially based on this Digital Universe package.

Edoardo's get together

I've just got back (well part of the way back) from a few days spent in New York for the Amaldi 8 meeting (the last one was in Sydney and I got to have a little holiday afterwards, but this time I've headed straight back). This meeting is entirely gravitational wave-based and embraces the whole GW community - involving experimentalists, data analysts and theorists using (or studying future aspects of/designs for) interferometric, bar and pulsar timing-based detectors, and covering ground and spaced-based instruments. It was an interesting meeting and I got a lot from it in terms of talking to new people, especially people from the pulsar timing community. All the talks are online here (including mine, which was given on the back of an unintentional hangover [this is not a recommended way to give a talk, but the majority of people I know have given a talk whilst hungover at some point in their career, and in some cases still slightly drunk from the previous night's excesses]), so you can give them a browse if that sort of thing tickles your fancy.

The meeting is actually still going on today (mainly talking about third generation detector designs e.g. for the Einstein Telescope), but I had to leave early as I'm heading to a friends wedding tomorrow - there will be astrophysicists at that to though, so I could pretend it's like a meeting... of course I won't do that Kirsty ;)

6 hours in Heathrow

I am currently sitting in Terminal 1 of Heathrow Airport waiting for my connecting flight back to Glasgow after flying in from New York. Unfortunately I have a 6ish hour wait in Heathrow. I tried getting put in an earlier flight, but apparently if you have luggage in transit they can't move you! So, to ease the boredom I have signed up to one of the wireless networks - in this case Boingo. One of my boredom relieving activities was going to be to catch up on some TV via iPlayer, but this has proved a problem. Despite being in the UK at the moment it seems that Boingo don't use a UK-based IP address, so I'm being denied iPlayer goodness. One way round this would be to use my Glasgow University VPN account, but I don't seem to be able to log in to that. I think I may just have to resort to good old fashioned torrenting, or even just satiate myself with some stuff on youtube.

I suppose I could even try doing some work instead, but I don't think my sleep deprived brain is quite up to that!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Not leaving New York

So, my travels to the US continue to provide fun times.

Today I have been traveling out to the Probing Neutron Stars with Gravitational Waves meeting at Penn State. To get there I've been traveling through New York, and unfortunately I'm still in New York, rather than being in the air nearing State College. I'm also lacking my luggage, which I expect is sitting somewhere in Heathrow airport, but is hopefully closer to me by now.

The latter issue seems to have come about due to my luggage not making my connection from Glasgow via Heathrow - despite there being a two and a half hour layover, so it's not as if the bag had to be rushed between planes. The transatlantic leg of the flight was with Continental, and so far they've been ok for helpfullness on my lost luggage situation (although a couple of the Newark baggage ground staff weren't so useful - if I'd followed their original advice I'd have been screwed), but we'll see how things pan out over the next few days i.e. whether I get my luggage or not. Can they echo BA levels of incompetence?

For my flight to State College I've had to go through La Guardia airport (I spent a few hours in Manhattan between flight connections) and I got there with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately my plane wasn't quite so punctual. The journey consisted of two legs: first to Philadelphia and then on to State College; but due to a delayed first leg there was going to be no way of making the connection. So, I'm now in an airport hotel near La Guardia. At least they have free wifi.

Hopefully my travel will work out better tomorrow. I'll be slightly late for the meeting, but not too late.

[Update: For the leg of my trip described above it took my bag an extra couple of days to reach me out in State College - in fact it arrived just as I was about to leave to come back to New York (I had to pick it up at the airport). On my return from New York to Glasgow, surprise, surprise, my bag also went missing! It seems it didn't leave New York when I did and spent an extra night there. I'm either jinxed or have a poor choice of bag (a big rucksack), which is disliked by the baggage staff at airports.]

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Astroparticles are the best particles

As I've been fairly lax (and in reality a bit too busy) in the past month or two about writing blog posts I've decided to take the opportunity to write something while I'm on the train back from Edinburgh to Glasgow after a day at the IoP Astroparticle Physics meeting (there's still another day of meeting, and I am talking tomorrow, but now's the best chance I've got to write anything - at least until my laptop battery runs out). We've just had the meeting dinner (at the Caves), which was designed to appeal to the non-Scots, by consisting of a (decent) starter of haggis, and finishing with some Crannachan (spelling not-withstanding) [and also some of the worst tablet I've had!] followed by a Ceilidh. I had to commentate on the meal to my fellow table-mates due to my knowledge of all things Scottish (I have been here getting on 7 years now, so can interpret the native ways [although those East coasters's could do things slightly differently!]), and during the Ceilidh I was involved in all the dances (until I had to leave to catch the last train back to Glasgow) as I had a slight advantage in knowing what was going on. It was good fun, but dances generally should involve a higher female-to-male ratio! I don't mind dancing with other guys, but I think as a first go at Ceilidhing for some it may have been too much man-on-man action!

Prior to that we had a rather good speech by Sir Tam Daylell (former Labour MP and father of the house, who was slightly embroiled in the recent expenses stuff by claiming for some expensive book shelves prior to leaving office in 2005). What I didn't know about him was that he'd been very active during his time as an MP at promoting science and scientific outreach (he'd been told to do this by C. T. R. Wilson on meeting him during electioneering in 1958, when Wilson invited him in out of the rain for a cup of tea), and has met pretty much all the major physicists of his time (often by accident) - his parents hosted Born for a while.

In general the first day of the meeting has been good. It's a smallish meeting, which actually makes it easier to listen to the talks. One of the best talks was by Malcolm Fairbairn about the velocity distribution of dark matter (he amusingly illustrated the talk with images of Gordon Brown!) - he showed some interesting statistics and gave an interpretation of the DAMA results that I'd not heard before.

Like at NAM, one of the best session was actually about outreach. Astroparticle physics is a rich seam to tap for outreach. It's quite easy to set up detectors to show cosmic rays and is a very good way to enthuse school kids about the subject. I'd not really thought much about this before, but it's definitely worth more consideration.

Right, my laptop battery is about running out, so I'll have to actually upload this when I get home. There maybe more to write about tomorrow and hopefully I'll get back to blogging more soon!

[I uploaded this when I got home after a brief snooze on the train and having to be woken up by the conductor when we reached Queen Street. I should really be asleep now as I have to be up early.]