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The satellite that I was using to study the Moon now fully deserves the word "was", being as it is dead. I forget what the final analysis was - radiation damage to key systems I think - but with the short mission and low solar activity, there isn't as much coverage as I'd have liked, and it reduces the chance I can find a decent geological study to work on. There's instrument calibration/analysis work which wouldn't be the end of the world, but I'm more interested in the measurements than the measuring. Quite depressing.

Busking is going well- got a busy month next month, with 5 gigs in various locations, including one with just myself going to the Isle of Wight (Andy's school) again, which should be fun. For the science club I'm taking lego along this time- I have 3 identical sets that I've made, each capable of building a car (in various different ways, lots of different cogs and gears). The idea is to do a kind of Lego scrapheap challenge- get the teams to build cars, then at the end see which can go fastest, up the steepest hill, carry the most weight, and finally a crash test- how many times can you run into a wall before breaking up? With points for each different section, and a box of chocolates or something as a prize. On the way they'll learn about gear ratios and friction and power/weight ratios and energy loss in systems, etc etc.

Geocaching, which Paul has already chatted about, is very fun indeed. It's nice to have a hobby that me and Claire can do together, and now I've got a GPS too there's less chance of us killing each other fighting over her android. It's also the best excuse I've ever found to go out and get exercise.

Last night we drove down to New Quay, not for caching, but to pick up some fossils from freecycle- 2 massive bags full of lovely unsorted fossils. I am going to have heaps of fun just looking through them, and also plan to put together display boxes to take out to schools when busking.

Long period between blog posts! I do most of my internet navel-gazing on twitter these days (username = poobar). If you're desperate to hear my all-encompassing wisdom add me on there. If not, I'll update this occasionally too.

Trip Home

I was back at my parents last week for my sister's graduation, at which I tried to make myself useful by taking the photos. A bit of playing around with photoshop made them a bit better, and allowed me to photoshop a duck onto her mortarboard. Well, why not? She got a 2:1 in Maths, from York, and I'm proud as hell.

Stayed in runcorn for a big family party on saturday (claire came up to join us/sell her car, which was nice). On the day of the party I took the dogs out to try to wear them out before guests were licked to death, and had a nice long walk around the fields of Runcorn, until Murphy (he of the destroyer of worlds) ran full pelt into a bush and disappeared with a yelp. Turned out he'd found a nice filthy drainage ditch, 6 foot deep, and was stuck in the bottom. I tried to coax him along to the end where there was a ramp, but he stayed put. No question of him climbing out, of course- the walls were very steep, coming up to the top of my head when I had to climb into the thing myself to lift him out.

So now of course, I was stuck in a drainage ditch. I dragged myself out (using grass for handholds) with the grace and elegance for which I'm known, and kindly assisted by two hounds licking my face off. God knows what I smelled like on the walk home, a delightful mixture of sewer and dog and mud.

After all that they were still full of energy at the family party!

Physics Busking

You know those street artists that have a cart full of props, and do tricks and magic that boggles the mind, and then ask for money? Physics busking is like that, except the "tricks" all involve physics, science and optical illusions, and instead of taking payment afterwards we give understanding. It's aimed mostly at younger audiences- people do it in schools and museums- but also at older people too. There's a stall at some festivals for example.

I first heard about all this at Gregynog when I was drinking and playing giant jenga supervising a 2nd year undergrad careers trip. One of the speakers was Angharad Thomas, the Institute of Physics' national officer for Wales, and in the bar that night she told me and the other postgrads about busking, and how we might get trained in it. So I emailed her later and tried to set things in motion...


So the training went well! Just short of the maximum group size of 20 turned up, with a good mix of under/postgrads from different years. Some of the tricks we learnt were truly mindboggling, and we eneded up with 200 quid of props for us to keep and use. Hopefully the open day here will be our first big event. The guys who turned up for it took it in their stride too- you don't expect a group of physicists to instantly leap into such an imaginative and extrovertive activity, but they were all fantastic, and we ended up teaching the trainer a few cool things, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy it too.

So if anyone wants a fully trained, fully insured troop of science performers (all with CRB checks), let me know! We can travel a reasonable distance, and visit schools, fairs, festivals, science clubs, street corners, you name it.

Free Monitor?

I've got an Eizo 21 inch CRT monitor sitting on my floor- it weighs a bloody tonne and it's as big as a truck. Anyone want it? I got it free from a workmate but it's so heavy that it'd crush my desk flat if I put it on top- it's free to a good home. I'll keep it a week or so before taking it apart and playing with the electronics/ electrocuting myself/ swearing at it and taking it to the tip.

Tiscali, Camera, Paris!

Thanks to damn Tiscali my internet’s down at home so I’m writing this in work (in word, so it doesn’t look like I’m skiving). Work continues on- all quiet on the solar front, except for a few nice flares early this morning which hopefully we caught on camera.

Talking about cameras (neat link Jimmy) I just bought one! Still waiting for it to be delivered though. It’s my first D-SLR, a neat little Olympus E-420 that I’ve bought mostly for astrophotography- it’s small and light enough that it’ll fit on a telescope without straining the motors too much. I’ve got an old Olympus OM-10 film camera too so I’ve got some attachments (light guns, extra lenses, filters) which may just fit on this new model- if not it’s no big deal, but if so I can take some cool terrestrial photos too.

New things since last time… oh, I’m learning to play the Bass guitar! I’ve borrowed Claire’s and I’m just practicing on my own so my technique is probably terrible, but I’m having fun, and maybe every 1 in 10 times I manage to mangle out something vaguely recognisable.

I went to Paris last month with Claire, and it was awesome- great to see a new place, great to get the Eurostar, great to get out of Aber for the weekend. I’ve been to Paris before but only as a kid, and it’s so much better as an adult. Despite near hurricane conditions we saw everything we wanted to see and more- the Notre Dame, Montmatre, The Louvre (saw the Mona Lisa, amazingly not surrounded by crowds- go on a Sunday morning!), and also the whole city of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, which was pretty damn special.

We weren’t rushing round all the time though- met up with a school friend of mine who lives there and had lunch in a bistro in the Latin Quarter, which lasted three hours- service was appalling, food was incredible! The rest of the time I was really glad Claire was there to translate/ order food, my pronunciation is pretty dire- although she did keep doing stereotypical French laughs (har he har he har), which was a bit embarrassing after a while- you know what she’s like.

I think I may have caught the travel bug though- when we were at le Gare de Nord waiting for the train home there was a massive big timetable board with all these city names on- it was very tempting to jump on a train and keep on going round Europe. It doesn’t help reading Beth’s blog and seeing all the things I missed in Thailand! When I’ve got an actual job I’ll take holidays, see a bit more of the world- until then I’ll stick to reading about them online.

Hopefully my internet will have been magically fixed soon- if not I’ll have another fun hour on the phone to fuckknowswhereistan reading down the checklist of things to try to fix it with a guy whose pronunciation is so bad we had to resort to Alfa Bravo Charlie just to get me to type in “ipconfig”. Even then it took a few shots, because he didn’t know the phonetic alphabet so he made up his own. Why not just put the troubleshooting checklist online? When we got to the end and it was still borked, he told me there was a problem with the login server and to wait 24 hours and call back. Translation: “Go away. I can’t help you”. Fun fun fun! And yes, I know- you told me so.

Hurhurhur... penile

I think I was just drunk enough to enjoy Teeth last night- can't remember when I've laughed more at a film involoving penile dismemberment.

The research continues on. The satellite that I'll be handling the data from is in orbit around the moon- my instrument turns on and works, and if the bloody sun starts producing some x-rays we should be good to go. As you geeks probably know, the sun has an 11-year solar cycle, from the lowest with almost no activity, to the highest with loads of sunspots and flares and lovely murderous particles and radiation. We're at solar minimum right now- the next cycle is a tad overdue. And by a tad I mean over a year. Don't worry, there's probably not another mini-iceage coming, just a nervous wait for people with million- pound x-ray instruments orbiting the moon with no chuffing x-rays to collect.

At the moment my time is made up almost entirely of learning to code- although it's been so soul-destroyingly boring I'm thinking of having a day a week where I just  do interesting stuff like read papers. I'm learning IDL, a scientific coding language with shades of Fortran and C (aparently). In a month or so I'll have a reasonably important project to do/ help with (coding a GUI to let people manipulate the data output of my instrument more easily), and I really don't want to make a tit of myself, so for the next few months I'm cramming. It's tricky, especially having never coded a line in my life before, so instead of just looking at other programs and crying inside I've had a few pointers from a collegue, got the 2 books ever written about IDL (I exagerrate- really there were 3) out of the library and I'm attempting Project Euler, after reading about it on xkcd's blag. It's a collection of maths puzzles that are best (or only) solved by using computing- things like finding sums of certain values in the fibonacci sequence, or computing prime factors of massive numbers. I'm pretty pleased with my progress, having completed 6 (1,2,4,6,7 and 14), and it's really helping me learn the basics.

It's not all dull at work- it was clear last Monday night so I went out with some of the 2nd years with telescopes. We were just outside the department so the light levels were too high to see much, But Venus and the moon were almost touching and looked fantastic, and Jupiter was up above them, and for the first time I saw three of it's moons through the telescope (Io, Callisto and Ganymede, moon-fans). Hopefully I'm setting up a new science outreach course too, but more on that when/if the funding comes through.

Phd Update, Wedding

I'm about a month into my PhD now. As I mentioned, my project is on making geological maps of the moon (properly it's making elemental abundance maps- as in the percentage weight of each element, mapped out for the whole lunar surface). Of course being only a month in I'm mainly background reading, but I've started reading/doing more relavent things now. It helps that the satellite my instrument is on has only just launched (follow the link for the launch video!) last wednesday, so everyone involved is enthusiastic. It's going to be hard work for a while, but interesting and hopefully worthwhile. It helps that the other grad students are good people, and that my supervisors are decent.

I'm already being sent away for meetings and things- I went down to RAL last tuesday, then straight down to London to stay with my Dad for a few days before the wedding. He's got an ace flat just next to canary wharf, so I spent a couple of touristy days whizzing around the city/ getting very drunk in bars full of bankers, while still managing to get to the Natural History Museum for some research in their frankly amazing (to a geek like me) mineral room. For the wedding my dad had kindly agreed to hand over his flat to anyone who wanted to stay, so Bryn, Liz, Simon Dan, Claire and Matt stayed round- it was great to have them all there. The wedding was fun as hell- you couldn't get a more central location. Sipping a beer out on the steps with the Eye next to you and Westminister across the river was pretty special. Alec and Suz looked so happy too- have a good honeymoon guys.

Space Camp- The rest of it

Blogging from the summer school kind of went out of the window- I really didn't have time! The lectures were interesting, even though the "relavent" one turned out to be all about metorites. They at least showed a picture of the moon on the slideshow though, at which point everyone I'd been whinging to about the lack of lunar stuff turned around and gave me ironic thumbs up, the bastards.

The social side blew me (and us all, I think) away- first there was an elizabethan banquet in Hatfield House, which I was dreading, expecting it to be some kind of theme dinner with a few jugglers putting you off your food. It turned out to be basically a dinner show, with Henry VIII and his courtiers holding session at the front of this massive hall, and free wine, mead and wenches flowed forth. After we'd all got quite a lot tipsy there was a cheesy disco, and I maintain that the sight of 100 drunken physicists dancing to "Come on Eileen" is possibly the best thing in the world.

The next night we went for a cruise on the River Thames. Two old private-hire red routemaster double-deckers picked us up at the campus and drove us into central London (me and some other guys raced to the front seats on the top deck, of course). We had an hour or so to sightsee around the embankment before the boat sailed- London at night looks amazing, and the buffet was great (and free) and the bar was well-stocked (and also, amazingly, free- thanks University of Hartfordshire!). So that night was bloody good as well. Add in the general good mood of most people there, and the "fresher's week" kind of atmosphere most nights and it turned out to be a good week, and I've very glad I went.

The only problem, as I mentioned, was it wasn't all that relavent for me, and I was sitting in the lectures feeling a bit worried about not doing enough reading for my project- so to that end I sent claire on a daring mission to pillage Hugh Owen library of lunar geology books which I picked up from Aber on the way back up (in between the very fun geek 'n' troma nights and hogging her new copy of Spore). So that was a very nice end to the week, even with the horrendous drive to aber (7 hours!). Got back on Sunday for my dad's birthday and had a great meal and yet more booze, had yesterday in bed/playing Spore (it's amazing).

Today I've taken Murphy to hydrotherapy- he soaked me to the skin but he's chasing the toy back and forth and not utterly panicing any more. He seems to enjoy the swimming a lot, and even after only 3 times his stamina is well improved, so there's hope for the poor dog yet.

Right- after that monster week I have a million and one things to sort out for the move back to Aber, including sorting through 3 years of undergraduate shite to see what to take back/to the tip- nice fun afternoon there then!