LVC Day 4

Even though I hadn’t had too much to drink the previous night, the lateness, as well as it being the 3rd or 4th night on the trot made it all the more painful waking up. As I was sitting in bed chatting to Daniel, waiting for Jennie to finish in the shower, I got a call from Joe. Morning calls are usually a fixture, but the schedule had been a little tight this week, so I jumped at the chance to get as much chat in as I could.

Another day, another muffin. I just wanted bacon. Just once. But a muffin and a bucket of coffee later, and I felt only slightly more human.The agenda for the talks today were predominantly data analysis focussed – computing budget, burst search results,  and stochastic search updates. I always think that the stochastic updates are neat – their group, instead of looking for individual events or sources, are more concerned with detecting an ensemble of unresolved results. As such, they have extremely different results to present, from some relatively off-the-wall methods when compared to other search groups.

Alas, the week was starting to take its toll (and yes, I did just use the word “alas”), and after a talk or two, I decided that what I really needed was some peace and quiet. Sitting in the back of the dark room just wasn’t secluded enough. Unfortunately, though,  housekeeping were in the hotel room, so I came back down and felt sorry for myself for the next hour, until the morning break.

The day carried on in much the same, but food at lunch perked me up. Look, I don’t think that muffins and pastries are in any way appropriate for a breakfast. Not even once. The addition of melons and strawberries was no consolation either.

Lunch on Thursday was the LAAC lunch – some of the LAAC guest alumni stuck around to talk to current LIGO students, and this was our chance to rub elbows. I sat on a table with Tobin, an ex-LIGO now Google employee in San Francisco. The food was mexican – but I couldn’t tell you what. I honestly can’t tell the difference between the styles of wrap. The talk at the table was interesting – not just on experiences post-LIGO, but also about what it’s like to work at different institutes, the benefits of working in various working groups, and the like.

After lunch, I was back in the hall for the stochastic talks. Always interesting, and always eye opening. Their aims, to detect the gravitational wave background, is like trying to characterise the murmur of conversation at a bar, but not to resolve any individual words. It strikes as particularly challenging as their search isn’t for a given waveform, or for loud events, but is very dependant on cosmological models. It’s a unique challenge within the LVC, and utterly fascinating.

After the final plenary of the day, we were kicked out so that the hotel staff could set up for the conference dinner. Vinny, Paul, Daniel, myself and a few others decided to head to Caltech to have a nose around. On the way to meet the others at reception, I was stopped by Susan. I recognised her from the dance floor on Tuesday night. She said that she was here with a film crew, and were filming the event for a post-discover era documentary. She told me that she likes to interview people with more energy, and that she was impressed by what she had seen on the dance floor. Susan asked if I would be happy to be interviewed for the documentary, and of course, I jumped at the chance. It meant that I had to reduce the amount of time I had at Caltech, but that was a trade I was willing to make. I was to meet her when I got back later.

The walk to Caltech took about 20 minutes, and when we got there, none of us knew where we were going, or how to get into any buildings, let alone which ones would be best.

We milled around the courtyards for a while, but before long, I had to head back to meet with Susan. Before I went in front of the camera, whilst they were talking to Nutsinee, she asked me some questions about my research, about what I felt about the kind of events that go on,  and about what its like working in the collaboration. Then, it was my time. I sat on a stool, I was micced up, and Susan led me into the interview gently. It was a nice experience – though I became very aware, as I was speaking into the camera, that what I said now might be made public, so I had to pick my words a bit more carefully than I might otherwise.

And then it was done. in ten or fifteen minutes of the same questions all over again, I was excused, un-micced, and I was on my way.

The conference dinner that evening in the ballroom was on the face of it a formal affair. Large round white tables, white tablecloths, a 2 forks, 3 glasses, and a waiting service. I had chosen to sit on a table with some familiar faces, and ended up sitting next to Max Isi – a Caltech student who I had seen about, and who worked within the CW group, but never had a reason to talk to. He made for good dinner company. The food of the evening was nice, a salad to start, chicken (was my choice) for main course, and a nice fruit tart for dessert.

After the food, it was time for the talks. Always expected at this kind of event, and usually delivered by Gaby, plus someone from the hosting institute, it was a little different this time. These talks were presented as a retrospective of how LIGO, Virgo and GEO came to be. The first speaker, Rai, spoke about how he came to the idea of an interferometer and about how it was to work on the prototypes at Caltech. What stuck with me was how different the landscape of the field was then. It seemed like there were just a fistful of people working in a lab. I guess with the tinted glasses of retrospection, all things tend toward fondness.

The second speaker, whose name I did not catch, told a parallel story of how the field developed in Germany, right from the early Webber bar detectors up to the start of the interferometric era with prototypes towards GEO. Third, Jim Hough spoke about how Ron Dreaver drove the field in Glasgow, about the 10m prototype, about how the British-German coalition came together to form GEO, and about the development of the 4-stage seismic isolation. The whole thing felt like looking back through a family tree, and exploring what led us, as LIGO, as Virgo, and as individual scientists, to work in the landscape that exists today.

After the speakers had done their part, the dinner guests broke out, some to the bar, some to their rooms, and some out into town. I stayed at the hotel bar for a time. The drinks had been discounted for this last night of the conference, which made a nnice change. As I was outside chatting in the courtyard, it seemed as though most of the conference was heading to the same bar – T Boyle’s – for some St. Patrick’s day celebration.

Foolishly, I joined them.


The atmosphere there was great. LIGO made up about half, if not more, of the patrons there that night. The bar had a cover band in. They weren’t particularly good, nor were they particularly bad, but they were having a good time, and it was reflected in what they played. The whole LVC crowd occupied the upstairs balcony area, more than thirty of us, easily.

As the night wore on, I found myself hanging outside with some others, gasping for air. There, I managed to meet what might be the only other LVC scientist from Somerset! He, Tom, was from Cheddar, and it was nice chatting to hiGuinessm. Once the band had finished playing, it was only another half hour before the bar kicked everyone out for the night. At that point, the group split into three. One party headed back to the hotel, another went to somebody’s apartment to carry on the fun, and a third party split off in search of alcohol to take to the apartment.

I found myself in that third party, but after ten minutes of walking back and forth and getting exactly nowhere, I figured that I should really go back to the hotel and split off to walk back alone.

You can see the aproximate locations on the map (you might have to pan down to California)

When I got to the hotel, I found a subset of that first returning party in the lobby. Having come back already, they had changed their mind and decided that they really wanted to stay  out. I have no will power, and am very susceptible to peer pressure (at least, that’s what I tell myself to make me feel better about bad decisions), so I ended up walking the 8 or so blocks with the others to the apartment.

When we got there, before we could even ring the apartment bell, bodies came pouring out. Duncan frustratedly said that they had had a noise complaint (it was very late on Thursday night) and the guests had to leave. That was it for me. It was definitely a bad idea to stay out any longer, so I turned tail and led some people back to the hotel.

By this point, I was pretty proficient at slipping back into the hotel room.

[Featured image left to right: Me, Darkhan, Vinny, Cao, Evan]



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