Walla Walla Wine Tasting

So, I’m just going to gloss over the fact that I’ve skipped an entire week. Here are some bullet pointed highlights:

  • Spent the previous weekend glued to the TV, and at a party at J’s house, and trying to change the tyre on my bike
  • Met with Greg, talked about Fscans, got shown around the LIGO-WA cluster
  • Hosted Mouse Guard, T played, and it didn’t end well for him.
  • Managed to change the tyre on my bike.
  • Hosted a pub quiz on Wednesday, 2 teams competed. Ross’ team got DESTROYED
  • Managed to successfully write a python code from scratch. It output what I want it to.

 

Wasn’t that so much less painful? So let’s just skip ahead to Saturday. It was a really very busy weekend. As it was Miriam’s last weekend in the states, she and Evan had invited us all out to go wine tasting in Walla Walla, a town about 45 minutes to the east. We left before midday, and 5 of us piled into the car. Of course, Walla Walla, much like many towns in this area, Yakima, Wallula, Umatilla etc, are native american names. In fact, the whole area has a rich history. We passed right be the Sacajawea State Park. Yes, that Sacajewea. See it on the map below:

We got into Walla Walla a little after midday, and parked up right outside of “Onion World”. It happens that Walla Walla is known for its onions. It’s a strange thing to be known for, but whatever works. As we walked around the corner onto Main St, some of the roads were barricaded, and there were stewards holding bells. Just after we had crossed the roads, about 50 cyclists came screaming round the corner, all in Lycra and hunched over their handlebars. Today, as it happens, is the Walla Walla bike race.

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We wandered up and down Main St for ten minutes, and decided that we should all get some lunch before going tasting. We came across this place called Olive. It seemed up-market from their menu: Duck confit salad, artisan pizzas, and warm sandwiches. I had a coconut and carrot curry soup, which was delicious. In Evan’s plate, there were some mystery unidentifiable vegetables. They were long and thin like a carrot, the colour was a deep pink, lighter than plum, and the taste was fruity, but with a carrot-y texture. If you have any thoughts on what that might be, feel free to comment below.

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Walla Walla is a college town, with (I think) 2 campuses, and so it has a much younger population than the Tri-cities, and a much more liberal outlook. More than that, Walla Walla is a haven for wineries. Even though many of the vineyards are west of Richland, near to Prosser, there are very few wineries based in the Tri-cities. Our first winery of the day was Mark Ryan winery. The five of us shared two sampling. The flight was a flight of 5, starting with a rose, a Chardonnay, then 3 reds, each deeper and richer than the last. Between Ross, T and I, we bought a bottle of red to take home.

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We asked the people at Mark Ryan where best to go for more wineries, and they pointed us to a street full of wineries. There, we stopped into a few to check what they had on offer. One of the places offered “$5 each glass, and 7 bottles to try” – I took that to mean $5 for a try of each bottle, and $35 for a full flight, an poo-pooed the idea. Outside, the others told me that it likely meant $5 for a physical cup, with which we coculd try the seven wines. Disgraced, we did not return. Instead, we headed to Trust, another flight of 5 for $10, this time with one white and 4 reds. The Riesling was way too sweet, and my favourite they had on offer was one of the two Syrahs on offer. But the other two wanted the other Syrah, so we settled on that one. After half an hour in there, and “can I try that one again” and “what would you put this one with?”, we stumbled again into the sun.

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We were almost ready to head home, but we decided that we ought to walk off the wine before Evan drives us home.  We walked along Main St for a while, and then back again, soaking in the sun. And then we were driving home.

The evening on Saturday saw the annual “Wisteria party” at one of the LIGO-ons house. This was, apparently, his chance in the year to have people from his whole life to get together and get to know each other, under the wisteria in full bloom on his terrace.. We all pulled up to his house in the evening in a very nice part of town, and got about mingling. There were people there from the local gliding group, from his street, old friends. Ross and I met one man who used to head up a research department at the old Hanford B-reactor. He had some interesting stories about research protocols then, about using interferometry to measure the length of carbon moderator rods, and going down to Los Alamos to do research for space travel. It really was a good time. Towards the end of the evening, the Black Hole Binary Bluegrass Band struck up again, and seemed to be having a good time. The rest of us certainly were. By 10, it was time to go home and call a close to the day.

And what a day.

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Bluffs and Board games, Cars and cafes

Saturday started with a groggy feeling. I had agreed to go on a hike today with Terra, out to a place called White Bluffs. That meant meeting Ed at about 8:30 this morning by the office in the centre of the complex. I think that Ed was a little worse for wear than I was though! We headed down to the strip mall where AT&T is, where we had planned to meet whoever else might be coming.

Whilst Ed went in search of a hat to cover his head from the sun, I went in to Starbucks and got some sweet, sweet coffee. T texted ahead to say she would be late, and that it might just be the three of us, and Jamie. Either way, a walk is a walk. We gathered in the Starbucks, one by one, and all sat with a coffee, a pastry and our heads in our hands. Once Jamie was done, we all piled into his car and made our way north to the White Bluffs. We passed mostly through farmlands on the way there. Long straight roads.

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We arrived about 45 minutes later, after one or two wrong turns, and unenthusiastically left the car for the cold morning air. The White Bluffs are north, next ot the Columbia River, just across from the site that used to be Hanford town, before it was knocked down to make room for the Hanford plants. All except the school building, the only concrete structure in the town.

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We started walking up towards the bluffs along the gravel road, and continued for about ten or fifteen minutes before turning off the beaten track to head upwards. The soil here was more like a compacted sand, but was so loose underfoot that, when walking up a steep side, you could just make your own footing. The bluffs were sort of tiered, topping the first layer only revealed more up above. At the top of each layer though, there were shelves of green grass. It was a little strange to see.

At the top of the second tier, instead of a shelf right there, it was down below us a little – a rich, vast meadow in the middle of the desert, built up at the sides. T bolted downwards. Ed carefully made his way down, Jamie confidently descended, and I sort of clung to the side and inched uneasily towards the bowl. Still on the side, I could hear clearly the conversation that the others were having as though they were right next to me. The still air, the silence of the bluffs and the natural amphitheatre were really quite a combination.

The grass was a nice break, and we stopped for water before heading up the third tier. This time, it was a little steeper, a little softer underfoot, and exhausting. But it was the last layer. At the top, we stopped for water and to admire the view over the river. Carrying on behind us was a small rise. Ed and I explored that direction to see what lay that way. On the other side, we could see a whole load of specks in the desert – all old nuclear plants, now decommissioned. Ed told me about how he had visited them once, and how they would have worked without computer controls, no event logging, and no sort of digital readout. It sounded like a job to plan and build, and certainly stressful to work in. Over the river, looking back where we walked, we could see the roads that used to define Hanford, and off in the distance, we could see the vitrification plant – a big block on the desert, trying to redefine the area. We could (well, not me, I’m kinda blind) see one of the LIGO end stations too (X-arm). I couldn’t see, but I had hoped that my camera could do a better job. By now, the day had warmed up, and the sky was all blue, and reflected in the deep blue of the river.

After fifteen minutes of rest, we headed along the top of the bluffs. There was a track skirting the top, and we just walked. It wasn’t exactly clear as to how, or where we were going to get back down, but that was a worry for later. The rocks up here that cropped out of the side were not stable at all. We stayed well away. I used this chance to catch up and chat with Ed, which was nice. He’s a lovely guy. We carried along the top of the bluffs for about half an hour before deciding that we needed to get down.

The sides were pretty steep, and now the soft sand only served to loosen the footing. Slowly, we all made it down to the basin on the second tier, where we found a slightly more shallow path down.

Back at the car, we just all piled in and tired and hot, we sat quietly as Jamie took us all home. It emerged, though, that TJ, one of the operators at LHO was having an Easter beer hunt – each person brings a 6-pack of beer and hides them around. Then, everyone runs around and picks up beers they find that others hid to fill their 6-pack back up, followed by a barbecue. That was on my to do list for the afternoon.

Back in Richland, we all got dropped off at the car park. Terra gave me a lift as far as a bike shop in  town that I’d been eyeing up. I inquired about a used bike, so that I could ride it into LIGO, then ride to and from the arms, without having to hassle others for a ride. They had a bike for $150, but my bank was awaiting an injection of dollars, so I had to leave it for the day, and walked home. Terra, Ed and Jamie had all headed back to the site for the afternoon while I was making my way home, so I used my afternoon to chill. Shower, food and make in roads about getting a lift to TJs this afterrnoon.

At some point, I got a call from Vinny, quite out of the blue. He said that he had lost something, and asked me to look for it in his room once I could get into his apartment. Before long, Nutsinee came by to take me over to TJ’s. There, TJ’s we arrived late for the hunt and the barbecue, but there was still food left. Everyone had settled into board games – and TJ and Christine had  more than just a couple! We started off by playing Pirate Munchkin, the game of munchkin with a pirate theme. It was confusing, and it took an injection of Christine, a seasoned player, to really get the game moving.

At some point during that game, Ed excused himself to pick Tega up from the airport. Tega was Ed’s postdoc at Sheffield, who is going to be moving in with me, and staying until June. We carried on playing in Ed’s absence, substituting somebody in his place. After that game was won, we started watching the other table playing Observe!, the LIGO game created by Jamie. It’s a long game, and it’s still in beta, but it looked playable. And ultimately enjoyable. TJ had one of those Amazon Alexa devices, that responds to voice commands. It proved good for entertainment during the evening, but I still think they’re a little creepy.

Then, at last, we moved on to Quelf, described as the awkward game. I will always remember Jeff playing the one eyed mime, trapped in an invisible box with two feral weasels. It was a very fun game, and we didn’t finish until about 1am. Ross and I both got a lift back from Nutsinee, and went back to our own apartments.

Sunday

Thanksfully, Sunday was a much shorter day. Joe couldn’t skype, because he was with his family for Easter Sunday. Instead, I stayed in bed until about 10am, before heading out to breakfast with Nutsinee. At JD’s Diner in West Richland. I had waffles, se had grits. I tried grits. I  do not like grits. I stuck with my waffles. Then, we visited the neighbouring town of Prosser. It was only about 30 minutes away, and a pretty drive, especially on the return journey.

 

 

I maintain that I am not a good photographer.

When we got back to Richland, Nutsinee wanted to head to the Caterpillar Cafe to study, and I fancied that. We stopped by the apartment to grab my laptop, and grabbed Hang in the process. Then, off to Nutsinee’s to grab her things.

We were at the cafe all afternoon. I used the time to write the blog, the others studied.Time passed, wavy lines, doobly doo music. At about 6, we jumped in the car and went for dinner at the chinese place down the road, and headed back to the cafe.

At about 8, Nutsinee dropped Hang and I back home to call it a day. At home, we got a chance to talk to our new housemate, Tega. He seems like a really nice guy. I guess you’ll read more on him over time.

Not all days have to be exciting.

 

 

 

The calm after the storm

Sunday

So with the LVC done, and me back in Richland with half of a weekend left, I needed to chill. I think I spent the whole day in my PJs. I woke, wandered about the apartment, I think I even napped in the middle of the day. T invited me out on a hike, but I was in no state for that. All of the other fellows, excluding Hang and Stefan, were elsewhere, but they both went to the site that day.  T did come over in the afternoon with a sack full of laundry (her hotel charged for the use of the washers there, and I only wanted some sweets as a trade)

Monday

Monday came too soon, and it was back to work. Over the week at the LVC, the detector hadn’t been locked with a decent inspiral range, which meant that I wasn’t able to check to see if the change we made to reduce the comb had any effect. That would have to wait. So instead, the task I had was to start hunting for a different comb. There are a whole suite of combs, some were worse than others. I had some code that Vinny threw together which would help. The first task was to generalise it, and use it to try to narrow down the source of any of these combs.

In the afternoon, I had a run in with Ross. Ross is the Ph.D student of Ed. Ed, in turn is the leader of the group in Sheffield. Ed and Ross both are at LHO for a period, and while Ed is leaving soon, Ross is staying here for 4 months, and the postdoc in their group, Tega, will be joining Ross soon too. Ross did his undergrad at Glasgow, and knows a few of the people in the Glasgow group, so aside from anything else, I think it would be nice to have somebody to talk about home with.

At lunch, Nutsinee wanted everyone to try her Thai snacks that she bought in Thai town, LA. Over the course of this lunch, Terra learned that I had never once tried a Pad Thai (sp?), and demanded, DEMANDED, that we go out for Thai one day this week, whilst she’s in Washington. Jameeson, T and Nutsinee all talked about the different Thai places in town that are, were, or might be in the future. One thing that I took away from the conversation was that The Emerald of Siam was a place that I would like to go.

So of course, that night, I got an invite to the Thai place. I turned up with Evan and Miriam, and ended up as the 9th in the party. It looked like Terra was able to whip up a party to come out. As promised, I had Pad Thai (kinda sweet, a little too sticky for me), but there was good conversation going on, from tattoos, like Nutsinee’s waveform, or Jamie’s hydrogen atom, we talked a little about politics, (we were all pretty unanimous on that one), and whatever else came up.

It was a fun night, and by the end of it, I was shattered. So after getting home, it as straight to the bedroom.

 

Tuesday

 

On Tuesday morning, I get into the office early (thanks, CBC telecons) to see an email from Jess, in the Detchar group. She outlines some work to do for transient noise studies from trucks going along te nearby roads. She said that it shouldn’t take more than half a day, so I put it into my to do list.

Now that I got Vinny’s code a little bit more streamlined (there was still a ways to go, my python isn’t so good) I could at least start using it for comb searches. Unfortunately, just by the nature of the exercise, it takes a while. So I set the code running, in a couple of instances, and went about doing something else.

At mid day, Masayuki, who had been visiting for a while presented a journal club of “The state of KAGRA”, much like the talk at the LVC, but with about 20 of us in the control room, it felt a lot more informal, and differently enlightening. We could really go over all of the details of the interferometer, the suspensions, and the plans for the future.

There was another clue to the combs that led down something of a rabbit hole, from looking for calibration lines and known instrumental lines nearby to trying to reproduce waveforms.  I got lost in that hole. Throughout the afternoon, Miriam continued to explore some of the rooms in LHO that she hadn’t seen before, and we discovered Jenne and Terra making an apple pie in the kitchen. It smelled really good.

I got lost in that hole, and before I knew it, Evan was heading home. I made a super fast dinner of eggs and ham and bread before Nutsinee swung by. She was heading out to Mckays to meet with T, and maybe Jamie. On Tuesdays, they have a local beer night, where beer from the local brewery is $1 cheaper, and gets you enterred into a raffle. We stayed there for two drinks, while T ate some yummy looking food. While I was there, I asked the manager about the open pub quiz position. “You don’t need to try out, just show up with some questions, and we’ll go from there”. I start quizzing on April 6th.

When I got home, I sent out a few emails, to Hang, Darkhan, Evan, Miriam and Nutsinee, inviting them for mouse guard tomorrow evening, They had all made a character with me. All that remained was for me to draw up a skeleton of a mission. It’s the kind of game where it’s definitely ok to flesh it out as you go along.

And then to bed

 

Wednesday

There still hasn’t been a good lock on the interferometer to test my stuff. The  commissioning team are all trying to bring the machine up to a higher laser power, but in the doing, the machine got moody and is having a hard time locking. It doesn’t help that it’s been windy here, and there’s a whole bunch of other commissioning work going on a host of different things. I know I’m not the only one waiting for a lock.

After reviewing yesterday’s code output, making some minor adjustments and testing them, and setting some more python jobs off, it was time to get started on Jess’ task. She had sent along some plots with truck loud times, and wanted me to look into the spectra of various seismic channels as well as the interferometer output, to see if there’s any coupling that needs taking care of.

In the after noon, I joined T in the EY EBAY. She needed a card to get in, but was only a visitor here, so I went with her. She was just testing some filter she had applied to tackle parametric instabilities. While I was there, I had a snoop around to see if there was anything operating on about a 1Hz period. Nope, nothing. After about an hour, it was time to head back to base camp.

I finally got round to pulling some ideas together, and jotted down a mouse guard mission in bullet points for the next evening. Stefan had left the apartment that morning, so it was a little less busy at home. I don’t remember what I did, but I don’t think it was very much at all.

Thursday

By Thursday lunchtime, my python script was doing what I wanted it to, but coming up blank on all counts. I got in touch with Robert, to see what he could suggest. I mentioned all of the little clues that I though there were, like the distinctive 0.25Hz “offset” on one of the combs, and whatnot. He got back to me with a few suggestions, look for lines in the interesting band, and to go look in all of the EBAYs, look for blinky lights with the right period, and wave a magnetometer in their general direction. So after a brief search for lines (nope, none evidently interesting ones anyhow), I headed into the CS EBAY for half an hour to have a nose around. Nope. Nothing that was blinky on the order of one second.

Back in my cubicle at the end of the day, Vinny stopped by, laptop in hand. He had told me that he would be in this week to wrap things up with Mike, and to move his stuff out of the apartment. Thursday was later than he had expected to come in, but I knew that he had had a tumultuous week. I told him to get in touch if he’s coming back this way before the summer. I was going to miss his company. With that, he was gone.

That evening, the plan was to head home, set everything up, and once people arrived, order pizza (there always has to be an incentive!) before starting the game. I wanted to start at 7, but at the last minute, Darkhan needed to go shopping so I had to delay until 8. In truth, we didn’t start until 8.15 – and these sessions unually take a few hours.

We played through until past 11pm – it was my first time GMing this system, and everyone else’s first time playing. It was kind of draining. There were moments when I lost a tight grasp of what was going on, and the patrol got themselves into mischief that cost about 20 minutes, all for silly fun. It ate into the time at the end of the session. But by the end, we were all very tired. Next time, I’m insisting that we start earlier.

(NB, if you wanna  hear more about the mouse guard campaign, let me know. I have thought about writing them up, but only if there’s an audience. I’m struggling to find the time to write these as it is.)

 

Friday

On Friday, T was going to join me at the end stations. But first, I had to gather some things. In the event that I did find a blinky light, I wanted to be ready with a magnetometer. The only catch was that I couldn’t find a preamp. Fil said that he had seen a few in the LVEA. The only catch was that the interferometer was locked for the first time in a while. Kiwamu said it was ok to go out onto the floor, but I had to tread softly to not break the lock. It was my first time on the floor alone, and I just took my time to explore a little, and look all over for the preamps. After 20 minutes or so, I was convinced that I had looked everywhere, without crossing over the beam tube. I wasn’t prepared to do that, though, because I didn’t want to break lock.

I returned to Fil, who pointed to a different box that could do the same thing, so I grabbed that instead. With that, T and I jumped into the car and made the rounds to the end stations. The only blinking light that we found of the right period was synced to the GPS clock, so it wasn’t a good candidate. Even then, because it was outside of the EBAY, we couldn’t wave a magnetometer at it. So this was a bust. The rest of the day was more comb hunting at the computer.

At about 6.30, Jenne came by and whipped up Hang and I for a social dinner. It was a nice day, so I jumped at the chance, and into Jenne’s convertible. Roof down, hair up, and we were on the road!  We were heading to Ethos, an Italian place in a part of town I haven’t spent much time in. I was excited!

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Though we were the first to leave, Travis, Betsy and Jamie were already there. Jenne, on autopilot, accidentally went the long way around. The restaurant was quite nice, clean design, small plates, modern italian food, and good cocktails. After some time, we were joined by Nutsinee, Hang, Evan, Ed and Ross. The food was pretty decent (but pricey). After a few hours, we moved on. Not home, but to a bar. We started at Gaslight, in Downtown. It was lively. The music was loud, and there was a dance floor. But after one drink, we left, in search of somewhere a bit more sociable.

We headed next to Two Bits and a Bite.When we walked in the door, the music playing was heavy metal – err, no thanks. Betsy jumped straight onto the Jukebox and queued up something a bit more reasonable, classic hip hop. Before long, we had all gathered around a few of the pool tables. We were joined by Jeff, TJ and Christine, and more. The pool kept going for a few hours, the drinks were still coming, and the music was much better. Jamie and I teamed up against a few others on pool, and won a few rounds! It was great fun. In the end, at about 12.30, I jumped into the car with Ross and Ed, and we got home.

And to bed!

 

Marching on

The start of March came last week. Next week, I’m away from the Tri-cities for a conference, and I won’t be back until the twenty-somethingth, into “late March” territory. Then, in April, I have a visitor. But the start of April marks my half way point here.

In short, what I’m saying is that time has flown. I know that I’m wishing some of it away, but I’ve already been here for five weeks – 38 days of my 119, 31.9% through my stay.

This realisation has made me reflect a little on what I’ve managed so far: both personally and professionally, and both within the Tri-cities and without. And I have to tell you, as far as seeing America and doing cool things goes – I should step up my game!

At work, I’ve managed to do something, and that’s going to come to some sort of a head later today or tomorrow (more on that later), but I know that there is always more that I can do, more that I want to do.

And outside of work, I have a solid group of friends, who can be both spontaneous and methodical in their plans. It occurs to me that at the end of this month. They will be replaced by other fellows incoming, such as Miriam – who will be here for a month or so, and who I already know through various other conferences. I’ve tried to get around in Richland a bit, having been to the cinema, been shopping, acquired a coffee/tea haunt, I’ve been to work dos and friends places, and friends of friends. But outside of the Tri-cities, well, that’s a whole other story. I’ve only been to Seattle once, for a handful of hours before making the trip home.

And I really have no excuse – Evan often makes the trip down to Portland to visit his parents, and has offered me a seat in the car. I could easily get an airbnb for a weekend.

I’ve not been hiking, even though Badger Mountain looms over the back of the apartments. I’ve not been involved with any community stuff.

So here’s this. I want to throw myself in.

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It’s been five weeks now, I have no excuses. I’m settled, I can do things that I want to do.

Like, for instance, McKay’s hosts a pub quiz on Wednesdays, well they would if they had a quiz master. I could do that. I’m sure.

There’s a local theatre group. My family was always involved in theatrics, and there’s no reason I shouldn’t try for a small part.

Jeff said something on the Seattle trip that’s stuck – why do you need friends to do something with you. If its something you wanna do, just do it.

Of course, as ever, the biggest roadblock for me is transport. But I know that I can walk to McKays in half an hour, and the theatre easily in 45. And in a pinch, I can ask to be dropped there on the way home.

Today at work, I’m tackling the comb issue head on. Robert has a candidate coupling mechanism – you see, whilst we were doing the magnetometer studies, we were looking for a symptom, not a cause. The fields were, in the end, and not surprisingly, way too weak to couple into the interferometer. Instead, they indicate a large load on a power supply. It’s just a matter of guessing which one is the most likely cause. So today or tomorrow, Richard, Robert, myself and Vinny are going to power down some computers, power down a chassis, change a thing, power up the chassis and restart the computers. All we’re doing is in essence plugging a thing into a different outlet. But by tomorrow, we will know if it’s worked. After which, job done. onto the next project.

Next week, I’m in Pasadena, attending the LVC – LIGO-Virgo Collaboration conference – at Caltech. I’m meeting up with a bunch of friends from Glasgow there, and I am going to go out and paint the town orange (painting the town red sounds a bit much, after all). I’m giving a 15 minute talk about the comb search on Monday, then attending the rest of the session. Due to budget constraints (because the conference hotel is expensive), I’m sharing a room with Jennie and Daniel, so I’ll never run out of things to do.

For the first portion of this week, Vinny was unwell with a stomach bug, so I plugged away on my stuff alone. Evan left yesterday to get to California early, so it was eerily quiet here.

Hang and I have a new house mate, Stefan, a professor from Syracuse. He arrived late last night. I’m yet to have a conversation with him.

I’ll keep you posted.

Shock and Aww

I don’t like static shocks. When I was young, we had a slide in the back garden. When the sun was out, it would accumulate a static charge, and we would hate the ensuing shock climbing up to go around again. Now that I’m (somewhat) more mature, I still hate static shocks. In Glasgow, I have a pair of felt slippers at the office, and I wear fuzzy jumpers. As a result, I get zapped. I thought that I had left that behind me.

Nope.

Every day, at LIGO, I manage to become a walking ball of negativity (electrical charge, that is). Light switch? Ow. Open the door? Eeek! Sit down in my metal framed chair, not falling for that one! What am I going to do, stand all day? I’ve been trying to determine the root of all of this, and I’ve narrowed it down some.

Just before I arrived, the office had new carpet put down. Maybe it was that. Maybe it was nylon rub. But then surely, everybody would be experiencing the same trauma. But asking about a little, it seems that only I have these shocks.

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So that rules out the carpet.

So if now the carpet, maybe my old tattered shoes were so worn through that I spend my days rubbing socks against the carpet, not the sole. The simple solution was to just wear different shoes! And you might remember that I just purchased new shoes. What luck! So in all, I have had 3 pairs of shoes in this office, walking all over this new carpet.

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Old shoes? Ouch!

[Shoe photo]

Running shoes? Ah!

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New shoes? Eek!

3 strikes, and the theory is out!

But what about the chair. Now I’m really grasping at straws. I have a roller chair. If a Van Der Graaff generator has taught me anything, its that circular motion can create static.

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But I don’t have a rubber belt on the wheels, or a metal dome over my head. So by this point, I clearly am grasping at straws.

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Bye bye, “theory”.

Maybe it was, as it had been in Glasgow, to do with the jumpers I like to wear. Luckily, I work indoors, and I live in a desert climate, so jumpers are not exactly necessary at all times. So I went for a day without a jumper (cue the wolf-whistles).

Nope.

Stupid, damned static shock! That hypothesis has been rejected.

By this point, people are saying to me “Maybe its the dry air” or the ever helpful “Its your electric personality!”. Gee. Thanks, that’s lovely, but entirely useless to me!

One day, at home on my other laptop, plugged into a power outlet behind one of the sofas, I got up for a drink, flicked a light switch, and get a shock. In the house? On returning to my laptop, thinking nothing of it, I could feel my laptop chassis  buzzing, life my slide did at home as a kid. Not so much, b ut immediately, I knew. The American 2-pin plug isn’t grounded, and my bulky UK plug, on top of a big, cheap US-UK converter wasn’t grounded at all, and I was the grounding rod!

I have a similar set-up at work. A bulky converter into a British plug, into my laptop. Often, the connection is so bad that the connector will fall out of the outlet when I shuffle my feet under the desk. But I need this here, I can’t just not use my laptop.

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So today, I have taken the bold step of buying a brand new 2-pin US style power cable for my laptop. It should arrive by tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

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As an interlude between the Shock part and the Aww part, let me give you this brief note on wind and tumbleweed.

This week, we have had 60mph winds in the desert. You know what’s light, likes to roll and gets everywhere?

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And in large amounts?

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and asserts its territory very aggresively?

inee pic]

Tumbleweed. The little balls of hell are thorny, fragile, pretty quick, and very good at getting tangled and attached to everything.

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That is all

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Since I arrived here, I’ve been experimenting with board games. On Tuesday of this week, Evan, Nutsinee and Hang all joined me playing Boomtown again. It held up, and the game is a hit! But we didn’t stop there for the week, oh no. On Wednesday, Evan, Nutsinee and I joined in a 3-player game of Pandemic – a nail-biting, disease beating co-operative game where we must cure the world of all of it’s ailments. The game is really stacked against its players, with one win condition, and 3 or 4 lose conditions.

But I have a confession.

I bought Mouseguard.

I’m not proud (I am a little). I played Mouseguard as a character in the past. It’s a roleplay-heavy table-top RPG where all players embody anthropomorphic mice, all fighting for the sovereignty and defence of their kingdom against other, more predatory woodland animals. Back in Swansea, a friend of mine, Jake GM’ed with a whole bunch of good friends and I being an adventuring party. The game really draws you in, and a good GM will really push the bounds of every character, and you feel like you can fully explore the mouse you are

I bought the full box-set, instead of just the rule book. It comes with, not only the rule book, but also 20 dice, a pad of character sheets, a GM screen, player cards, a  pad of GM sheets, a map of the realm, and a booklet of extra rules and additional missions.

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It was partly for simplicity – everything in one place, partly for clarity to new players (and me as a first time GM) that this is, in fact, how to play, and mostly this: It’s  very pretty.

I have a brave (if not downright foolish) band of mice, Nutsinee, Evan, Darkhan and Hang, who are eager to play. As am I. We did the character creation (well, 2 and a half characters) on Wednesday evening, still one and a half to go this weekend.  I think that we’re going to have a good party. I’m already trying to work out whose buttons will get pushed!

Just to give you fair warning: once a week, I might upload  a post about the adventures of my guard’s patrol under a different category. You may feel entirely free to ignore those posts.

 

 

There and back again: Seattle

 

Eagerly, I woke up at 6.30. Mistake number one.

After heading to the site for about 9am, I proceeded to kill an hour, until Jenne started rounding people up to go. Hang was late in and needed a coffee (it was the morning after all) before we left. Ready to go, 5 of us headed out to the 7-seater “Monstrosity” as it was called that day. It was actually a Ford Explorer. Jeff told us that it had been dubbed the Ford Exploder, as the previous year’s model had been recalled after some had exploded. Eek.

So, in the Monstrosity was Jenne (who was talking later at the University of Washington, and driving the way there), Jeff (who had been to Seattle a fair amount, but had never lived there), Cao (a grad student from Adelaide, and excited to be going to Seattle), Hang (who had needed convincing to come, but Jenne had said “the higher ups decided it would be good for the grad students to come” – and with that, he came along), and myself, who did not need any convincing beyond “It counts as work”.

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Jeff, being in the front seat, had control of the musical accompaniment. He had brought with him a stack of CDs to be metered out through the day. In the middle, I sat next to Hang, and Cao was happy sitting in the two seats way in the back.

And with that, we were off site and heading seawards. Immediately after turning right on the main road, instead of left towards Richland, I said “This is the furthest east I’ve ever been” – to which Jeff responded “It’s a good thing we’re going wast.” Facepalm.

Here’s the map, if you need orientation:

“Hey Jeff, what are we listening to?”

“Lake Street Dive’s newest album” – listen to this as you read.

As we pass to the south of the Hanford reserve, Jeff points out the cocoons visible from the road. Hanford was the primary plutonium production in the USA during the cold war. Back then, there was a big rush to get lots of plutonium out, and the long lasting radioactivity was not the main concern. As such, in the 1990s, after the soviet union broke apart, it was decided that the  radioactivity at Hanford was not a problem to be tackled now. The radioactivity was so high that the ‘solution’ was to drape the old reactors in inches – if not feet (I’m not sure) – thick concrete, and let it sit for 75 years until a decontamination plan can be made.

Currently, the favoured way to deal with radioactive material a method – called vitrification – is to submerge it in molten glass, allow it to set, coat that in concrete, submerge that mess in water within a barrel and bury it in ‘low impact’ areas – away from flowing water, civilization and wildlife. Cocoons, as visible from the road, are structures, usually reactors, draped in concrete. The whole operation is a $1bn/year cost of the US taxpayer. It’s quite sad.

Cao pipes up from behind “We’re going to see this band in 2 weeks down in Portland”. Cool, I like this music.

As we pass out of the desert and over the Columbia River, the land becomes much greener. Suddenly, we’re in the fruit growing region. I knew that the area was known for its wine, but now it seems that the place is flush with cherry trees. Come June, I’m told, you will see fresh cherries everywhere. But not just cherries and wine, oh no. I found out the following day that the area grows a large number of apples for the USA, as well as hops. North-eastern breweries love their IPA.

Lining all sides of the fruit groves are these tall, wiry, closely planted trees, which are apparently wind breaks. The other striking thin about the area is the number of small villages, almost just standalone apartment blocks. “Welcome to the bustling metropolis of Desert Aire” said Jenne as we passed one. These areas are solely housing for the large numbers of migrant workers, often cheap Mexican labour, stay during the busy harvest season. It really is a vastly different environment than the desert around the Tri-cities.

 

The CD ends, and the next one goes in. “I’m playing you all of Lake Street Dive in reverse chronological order”. Fine by me! Here’s a sample from that album.

 

Soon, after maybe 90 minutes on the road, we come off of the highway. Jeff was looking on Yelp for a good pit stop for fuel and food. Ellensburg is a small city, but just about the only place to stop on the way. So we did. The trip is made fairly often, a few times a year, and so there’s an ongoing search for the best lunch spot. Well, this time, it was a pretty good lunch! The Lunch Box Cafe does a good lunch. Soup and sandwich kind of affair, but tasty and friendly. They make all of their food in house, including all of their gorgeous baked goods.

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But after about 40 minutes of fine dining, we were back on the road, fuelling up and making a toilet break before leaving. Again, CD change, and this time, to mix it up a little, we listenned to Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes’ “Baby Caught the Bus”

 

Back on the highway, and it’s not long before the farmland gives way to dramatic landscapes, which in turn, give way to pine forests. It really was stunning. The majority of the journey from here on was just admiring the views.

 

Of course, the area in Eastern Washington is so dry because of the rain shadow cast be the Cascades. Seattle is on the other side of them. We were going through the mountains – yes, those up ahead. Jenne had looked at the traffic cameras in the mountain pass and the roads were clear. Sometimes the pass is closed due to the weather, but today it was open.

The pass we went through, Snoqualmie Pass is known for its looks and the hikes nearby. There are some pretty impressive mountain in the Cascades, including Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, but the range in huge, from southern BC in Canada until the north of California. Passing through this way is just like a sneak peak (tee-hee), but still a pretty solid teaser

 

Jeff mentioned that, that evening, if we were all up for it, a jazz club might be on the docket. Of course, there is business to attend to first, and a long drive back. It was a nice idea, but not today. I would like to go at some point though. I know that there are a couple in Glasgow, but I don’t have anybody to go with. “Who needs friends” said Jeff. I might just go alone if nobody else wants to, once I get back.

As we pull out of the mountain range and approach Seattle, the scenery changes again. First green, but beaten back by a suburban sprawl, then, water. Seattle is on a geographical feature called the Pugit Sound – It’s basically a strait, I’m not really sure, but to get to Seattle from the mountains, you have to cross Lake Washington. Which was pretty, unnsurprisingly.

But alas, we were running late. The scenic route in through the city would have to wait – for now we had 45 minutes to get to the university, and it was 30 minutes away, plus traffic. So on the way in, I snapped the pics that I could.

 

We made a bee-line for the university, found a place to park up, and headed in. It was tiime for Jenne to give her talk. The University of Washington (or as its known to its students, U-Dub) was her undergraduate university, so she knew her way around, and a few faces in the audience were familiar to her. Her talk was a good summary of what LIGO does, how it works, some information about the detection, and the event that it detected, and the next generation of detectors. After all, there’s only so much that can fit into an hour!

Following her talk, Jenne departed to visit old professors and faculty members. The rest of us went on a walk through the campus. We were guided from the physics building through the campus. It smelled of fresh air and greenery, and I had sorely missed that. Our guides were the local gravity group, who have some affiliation to LIGO, but also run their own experiments. After walking across the campus, we got to their lab, and were given a tour of their various experiments.

They had tests of local gravity, down to tens-of-microns distance. Also, they test the inverse-square component in a different experiment. The two bit experiments which stuck with me were the test of the equivalence principle, and their tilt sensor. These experiments all are based around sensing rotation of a suspended mass, down to the nano-radians scale. As such, much like LIGO, they all do well being isolated from the outside world.

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Like this one, which looks like it’s in a snow globe.

After a thorough tour, and a few questions, Jenne returned, and dinner plans were made. Tacos. There’s a Mexican place neaarby (see the map) called Agua Verde, which, I’m told, do a good taco. 8 of us went out for food, 5 from LHO, and 3 from U-Dub. All bar one piled into the Monstrosity to get down there.

On arrival, we were seated. By this point, I hadn’t had much to drink all day barring a coffee, and the headache was settling in. Couple that with new people, a strange environment, a menu where all the dishes are named in Spanish, I got a little disoriented. But I powered through, tried to engage, gulped water, and ate a delicious fish taco. It really was good.

At dinner, the conversation turned away from gravitational research and onto some other projects. One of the faculty members who had joined us had been working on a side project, a new DNA sequencing method, and all of the differences working in the biotechnology field. For one, it seems that there, researches deal much more with patents and business agreements than we do!

Eventually, after the eating was done, it was time to pay up and ship out. The five of us hopped back into the Monstrosity, this time with Jeff driving. The music was Nathaniel Radcliff and the Night Sweats.

 

In the front of the of the car, Jeff and Jenne discuss the plan of attack. It already past 7, its a 4 hour drive back, but we are in Seattle. “Let’s go to the space needle for the kids”. Somehow, in this experience, the three of us grad students have become kids to the postdocs’ parents. We didn’t mind. Anyway, we made a quick pitstop into downtown Seattle. It was all of ten minutes to walk to the space needle, do a lap and come back. But it was cool nonetheless.

 

 

But soon it was time to make the trek home. There was just one problem. Seattle is something of a maze, and with some roads closed, and those open were heavy with traffic. It took fifteen minutes to get bearings, and then a further ten before we were on the highway out of the city. From there it was only five more minutes before we missed the turning and had to do the whole thing again! I guess I wasn’t the only tired one.

In the back seat, Cao got his laptop out and started processing the pictures he’d taken. Jeff and Jenne were chatting up front about this and that, and Hang and I st quietly in the middle. That evening, leaving Seattle, the moon hung low in the sky, and was a bug yellow disk againsty the mountains. It was beautiful, but elusive to a camera.

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The car was quiet the whole way. We didn’t stop anywhere on the way, and bathed in moonlight, the area took on a whole new quiet persona. Raphael Saadiq played us through the mountains and out past Ellensburg.

As we would our way through the flats, between hills and wind farms and along the river, conversation meandered from TV shows like The Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, to where we all were before Washington. Bit then the CD changed one final time. Back to Lake Street Dive, their debut EP, primarily covers of pop hits. This one really stuck with me, and its a shame to have at the end. If you play no other music in this post, I pray that you play this next one.

Jeff explained the CD as we went through its tracks. I was in love with this sound. The upbeat jazzy R&B reworking of pop songs, the bluesy take on a classic. It’s a four person band out of Boston, all excellent on their own instrument, all good musicians in their own right. They were a band for ten years before they found their sound, and it was a hit online. Now they’re signed to a label. But this next video is the one that started them. They reworked the Jackson 5’s ‘I want you back’ into a sultry plea seamingly effortlessly, and it sounds like a whole new song in its own right.

 

And with that, we were back in the desert. In the dark, the flats, stretching out in all directions looked like a sea, with the peaks as islands. One by one, we were dropped off at our homes, with Hang and I the last to leave Jenne’s company, as she took the Monstrosity back to hers for the night.

We were home, it had been quite a day, and all that remained was to hit the hay, ready for work tomorrow.

Weekend Shopping and Monday

This last weekend, I needed to go shopping, amongst other things, such as applying for a driving permit. So let me tell you about that.

On Saturday morning, our first stop was at the DOL – the department of licensing. I wanted to go grab a driving permit so that I could at least drive some. With Evan and Hang in the car, we went. The queue was pretty short – in fact, I didn’t even have time to sit down after taking a number. At the counter, I was asked for a slew of ID that I didn’t have. Of the ID that I did have, the man behind the counter wouldn’t accept my UK provisional license, as its only a partial license, and wouldn’t accept my visa form I-20, as it was for an exchange program with Caltech. I pulled out a letter from Caltech saying that I would be consulting in WA, at which point, they told me that I wasn’t eligible, as I wasn’t in the area for a year.

So I left the DOL unable to get a license, not surprised, but feeling frustrated. Evan, ever cheery, just helped me to blow over it and we went around the corner to an outdoor goods store – REI. Evan was after gloves. Then, we were off to look for shoes.

The only pair of casual everyday shoes I had brought with me were worn. The soles were flat, water and sand was getting in through the holes in the heel.

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It was definitely time for a new pair. To that end, we went to the mall in Kennewick, the neighbouring city. I mean, we were already there for the DOL, so it was convenient. Hang didn’t need anything from the mall – he was just in for the round, but Evan was also hunting for shoes.

The mall was ok – kind of what you might expect from a mall in a small city. It looked like it was built in the 70s or 80s, full of clothes shops, not much in the way of electronics nick-nacks , kitchenware, – in short, not really a place I’d go unless I needed some new clothes. And need I did. We went into probably 5 or 6 different shops looking at shoes.

Let me say, I have some trouble finding shoes I like (within my price bracket, you know who you are Dr. Marten) in the UK, where the popular style is a little more geared towards me. In the US,  had an even harder time.

We came across a shop called “The Walking Company” – just a small, nice looking, respectable shop. When we were looking around, the staff pointed out the discounted shelf. Something about out of season (bargain). BOth of our attention instantly went there. But before we could try them on, the assistant said “Let me measure your feet with this” and pulled a mat out of a cupboard. We were asked to walk across it, then stand on it. It gave us not only our shoe size (I am, apparently, a size bigger than I had thought), but where we put pressure when we stood and walked. It was neat, but ultimately, meaningless.

I found an acceptable pair of shoes, and tried them on (comfortable) “By the way, sir, those shoes are fully waterproof”. I thought that was great, but I said “Not that they need to be here!”. Evan also found a favourable pair of shoes from the same line. We both decided to leave our shoes behind the counter and go off in search of more options, and some food.

Ultimately, after lunch and 2 more shops (poor Hang would just wait outside whilst we looked and fitted and paced and declined), we returned to the walking company and made our purchases. With that, I was happy.

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On the way home, we stopped to buy beer, and coffee. There’s an independent coffee house nearby which roasts and grinds their own beans. Hang bought an Aeropress – a newfangled way to make coffee which works like a reverse cafetière. And then, we came home.

That evening, Hang and I cooked together, and afterwards, we watch the Phantom of the Opera. He said it was a favourite film of his, and I hadn’t seen it. Five minutes in, Nutsinee and Darkhan came over too. Darkhan couldn’t stay, but Nutsinee did. We watched the film, followed by a few episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood on Netflix. The beer we had helped too! The film was, at best, ok. I didn’t dig the musical stylings. The best song was elevated relative to those around it, but it was at best mediocre. The plot, also was lacking, with our damsel-in-distress lead never having any agency of her own until the last scenes. I don’t think I’ll watch it again.

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Sunday came, and with it, Hang, Evan and I went to Fred Meyers down the road. I bought loads, Hang bought loads, Evan bought less. But then we don’t have the freedom of travel that the others do. That evening, Evan and I were hoping to play board games, but Hang and Darkhan went to the site to work. With Vinny out of town too, there was no hope of playing board games that day. So instead, I went for a jog, wrote the last blog entry, and caught up with some Glasgow people.

I hope that this blog helps them know how I’m doing. I know some of them read it. I do like to know how they’re doing though. Sunday passed by without much excitement, and gave way to Monday, when I was excited to get back into work.

 

I had more magnetometer studies to do, but first, I decided to sit in on a telecon with Hang and Evan. Afterwards, I went back to my desk and, whiilst waiting for Vinny, struggled with plotting and python. I am not super familliar with python, but it is very well documented, and quite intuitive. Also, with some of the LSC’s tools that I’ve been introduced to here, it’s never been easier for me to do this kind of work.

Once Vinny was out and I had cracked the plotting tools, we retrieved what we needed from the corner station, and headed back to the Y arm. One thing that I noticed was this in my new shoes, putting on the shoe covers was a little awkward. Whilst taking the data we discussed our weekends, we had a big discussion about the games series The Elder Scrolls (I got lost in the lore one summer), talked about the movie The Room – it’s hilarious, you have to see it. But don’t mistake it for the 2015 Oscar nominee “Room”. That film had me in tears. In the end, we didn’t leave the Y arm until 6pm. It’s Vinny’s last day in town until Friday, so we left the magnetometer where it was to get some lock time.

I’m writing this Tuesday night. Tomorrow, Wednesday, I plan to go on a road trip to Seattle with Jenne, one of the postdocs here. She needs company for the car, and I have some quiet time whilst Vinny isn’t here. Stay tuned!

 

 

I’m doing science (and I’m still alive)

 

I guess lets start at the beginning of the week: Monday.

Monday

Monday was a holiday here, president’s day. I don’t know what it’s really about. All I know is that we can take the day off. And that Darkhan and Hang want to go into work for the afternoon. But at least for the morning, I was feeling a little slow – chalk it up to the cookie from Sunday night. So I did my thing and took the morning slowly before leaving the apartment at 1pm for the site.

At the site that day, I managed to get a whole load of admin things done that I’d been sitting on for a while. Expenses claims, scanning documents, getting some printouts. The works. It was kinda uninteresting. The evening was no more interesting either.  So!

Tuesday

So Tuesday was to be the day that we (the Fellows) met with Mike, our supervisor. But I had a few thread that I could follow, making some plots, looking for this and that. It wasn’t really enough to dig my teeth into though. So Tuesday was a dull grind. It sort of felt like it was the first full work day after the announcement of the Event, everybody was still swapping stories.

Eventually, though, whilst in the control room making some plots on a computer, Robert walked in. He was looking to talk to Vinny, but he was also looking for me. And this was one meeting that I had been waiting for. Robert asked if I had a project in mind to talk to him about, and instantly, I replied “Combs”. Combs refer to noise in the detector which present as fixed-frequency oscillations which occur at regular frequency intervals (e.g excitation at nHz, 2nHz, 3nHz, … up to some end frequency).

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Can you see why?

It turns out that this is also what Vinny had been looking at too, and it would be great to get to know what I’m doing by following Vinny around and helping him work. So between us, we settled on searching for the 0.5Hz combs, starting with a magnetometer survey, first by looking at the plots, and then by placing a temporary  magnetometer in various locations. I don’t know why Robert jumped to magnetometer straight away, but I trust what he says. He is Mr. PEM.

With that, we had a plan. Tuesday, make all the plots we need. Wednesday, go out to the Y-arm with a magnetometer and see what happens, and Thursday, we get into the corner station! I was so excited to start sciencing properly!

So after that, and with some instruction from Vinny on how best to use the relevant software, we make coherence plots and spectra for every single magnetometer channel in the LIGO site. By the time we were done, it was time to go home. Mike hadn’t had time for a meeting, so that was to be tomorrow.

When I got home that evening, with a few hours to kill before bed, I decided to go for a run at the gym in the apartment complex. In my view, treadmills are different to roads, and running indoors is weird – I miss the wind in my face. It turns out that podcasts make a good running companion. 3 miles later, I went home, ate, and chilled for the night.

Wednesday

Gearing up for a good day of science, I headed in looking forward to the day. And after a pitstop at Starbucks, Darkhan, Hang and I got into work pretty early. When Vinny arrived, we rallied around a computer again to reaffirm the conclusions from all the plots the made the day prior. They seemed to show a 0.5Hz comb stronger in one magnetometer than the other, (one computer rack vs the other) in all locations where these racks occur at the site. So that was a clue to start us.

Before we could do anything though, we had to get a work order. The process for getting a work order wasn’t necessarily straight forward. It was just filling in a form, then asking the operator at the time who we needed to sign it. So we run around, trying to find the relevant people to sign it for half an hour. Job done. Next, we gather the equipment that we need, jump into the site car, and make the 4km drive down to the Y-arm.

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Now, I’ve been excited about going to the arms. It’s where all of the action doesn’t happen – they have to be specifically quiet, clean and free from disturbances. I got a brief chance to go onto the floor where all of the optics were (but didn’t really look around), before going next door to the electronics bays. Vinny and I ended up spending a few hours in that EBAY, moving the magnetometer, putting it onto a rack, waiting fifteen minutes to take data, move the magnetometer, make plots of the last fifteen minutes. We were there for a few hours, and had some time to kill. It’s a good way to get to know somebody!

We come back for the meeting with Mike, where we all exchange plans for the upcoming LVC (LIGO – Virgo Collaboration) conference coming up next month in Pasadena, and work we’ve done in the past few weeks, as well as just a jovial, informal chat all together. Following that, and a sandwich, we head back out to the Y-arm and continue taking data for the day.

On Wednesday evening, once Hang arrived home, we got cooking. He’s not confident cooking, so for now, we’re cooking together. Tonight, we decided to make a chicken pasta sauce with tomatoes and sardines. It turned out nice, and gave a good chance to get to know each other. Our common thread is anime – he watches a lot of it, and as soon  I can,. I will thrust Cowboy Bebop upon him!

And with that, Thursday

Thursday

On Thursday, Vinny and I spent the day in the EBAY at the corner station. We had noticed some oddities in the data we had taken yesterday – the combs that we were looking for were present, but we hadn’t applied the usual gain onto the magnetometer. So we tried to correct this today. Time passes, doobly doo music, and by the end of the day, our data look even worse! Vinny had to run out at 3pm to grab some lunch, and in the course, locked his keys into his car. Without him, I couldn’t go back into the EBAY to look at the problem, and so it stayed there overnight.

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That evening, Evan tells me that I have been invited to Daniel’s house for a dinner party. I have heard whispers of these events, and that if you miss one, you’re struck from the list, and that is NOT what I want! So Evan and I head over, neither of us having been before, and neither knowing what to expect.

Daniel’s house was crowded, maybe 12 people were over! Luckily, Daniel is something of a wine fanatic, so the socialising was not hard at all! There were no unfamiliar faces there, except perhaps Dick and Mary, Dick has been with LIGO for aeons, and Mary has been with Dick just as long.

After the first (delicious) course, Jenne mentions to me, offhandedly, about a forced march around the block between mains and dessert. The talk turn to Aus, Brit and American cultural differences, and to the general election going on across America, standard dinner party talk. The food was beautiful. Daniel is Swiss, and his cooking is very pan-European, an Italian starter, and Austrian main,  and then a forced march in the cold rain.

That’s right. You either go for a walk between courses, or you wash up and forfeit dessert. So I chose to walk. Of course, walking permits talking – and the conversation moved from weekend plans, to partying in Pasadena, round back to some work related things. When we got back, dessert was fantastic! And there was still wine and whiskey to be had. I had a fantastic time, and I sincerely hope that I get invited again. [If I knew the walking route, I would plot it on the map, but I don’t. So I can’t]

Friday

We had some ideas about how to attack our bad data, so we dived right back into the corner station, bouffant caps and shoe covers in hand, we were prepared for another 5 hours sitting in a loud room full of wires.

But the difference today is that we have good data coming through from the magnetometer! So by the afternoon, with all the data we needed, and all the plots we needed, we left the magnetometer in the EBAY over the weekend to get a different perspective on the problem. Roll on Friday evening!

Nutsinee asked if we fancied food and drink at McCays, (of course we did), so myself, Evan, Darkhan, Nutsinee and Hang all met there. Good food, good times, and good sweet strawberry cider was had. Nutsinee had put in an order for some GW150914 t-shirts, and I had bought a shirt, a hoodie and a tie. They are due to arrive before the LVC next month (excited!)

MAP TIME

After the bar, we had hatched a loose plan for a board game night. Evan mentioned a store in Richland that was open late tonight – Adventures Underground. I went there and picked up a couple of games – The Resistance: Avalon, and Boomtown. Unfortunately, the plans for board game night fell apart, but nevertheless, I will put these games to good use.

That night, I went to bed and watched some Tabletop on youtube to check out a few more games, that now, I have my eye on. One day, maybe.

 

 

Einstein Was Right!

Well, it looks like Einstein was right.

If you’re interested in the technical details, have a look at some of these links

Christopher Berry’s blog. Christopher Berry is an LSC member and research fellow at the University of Birmingham, and focuses on what gravitational waves can tell us about compact objects.

Matt Pitkin’s Cosmic Zoo. Matt Pitkin is a research fellow at the University of Glasgow, and works primarily on gravitational wave data analysis in a wide range of ways.

Andrew Williamson’s Cosmoblogy. Andrew Williamson is finishing up his Ph.D  at Cardiff University. He is mostly involved in gravitational wave data analysis, and was also a LIGO Fellow, just like me.

I guess that I should stay off the bat that anything I say here, or anywhere in the blog, is just my own opinion. I don’t claim to represent LIGO in any way. And this post isn’t going to be technical. I will do a technical post in time, so stay tuned.

Here we go!

News that something interesting had happened at LIGO started filtering the the IGR (Institute for Gravitational Research) group at Glasgow on the afternoon of the 14th September 2015. It started out with the more observant email watchers hurriedly shuffling along corridors, diving into an office and closing the door behind them. What they were about to say was both secret to those not within the LSC, and so exciting to those within.

“Have you seen?” or “Did so-and-so tell you yet?” – but it invariably ended with

“There’s been strong signals in the detector! And they think it’s real”

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And this was a really, really big deal. Let me tell you why. Advanced LIGO began construction in 2010. Initial LIGO began construction in 1997. Before LIGO, there were Bar Detectors, and they date back as far as the late 1960s. Before then,gravitational waves were only a theoretical phenomenon, not able to feasibly be tested. First theorised in 1916 by Albert Einstein himself, they have remained as one elusive measurement of general relativity. This being the case, when there were whispers of a possible detection, people were very excited indeed.

Now some of us thought that this might just disappear, and for a number of reasons, which I can go into later, but needless to say it didn’t.

Of course, only a few people could be involved with the verification process, and I wasn’t one of them. So all that was going on was on the edge of my radar, but straight ahead was my own work. For a while at a time I would hear nothing about the event, then some information would drip through.

In early November, a small representation of Glasgow’s IGR attended a local astronomy conference, where a small presentation on the future of gravitational wave astronomy was given. It was kinda hard to stay straight-faced. But one little leak and the jig was up.

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By late November of 2015, the event was solidly in the territory of “This is happening”. The rumours from [REDACTED] had subsided, and the collaboration ploughed on. Eventually, in late November, the results were shared on an LSC-wide level. In one telecon, we would share information about the source of the event – a binary black hole merger event of 2 medium sized black holes, each a few tens the size the mass of our sun; in another, we would discuss how the detectors were performing at the time of the event, and how they’ve been since.  Also shared was the statistical significance of this event. When you see the plots, it’s really striking how loud this event was compared to the noise that we would expect.

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Of course, at the end of November was the centenary of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, of which this discovery is a consequence. A bit fuss was made worldwide, and a few of ius IGRers travelled down to London for a 2 day public event hosted by the Institute of Physics (IOP). We were holding a public outreach stall, focussing on gravitational wave detectors, and their place in physics. It was so hard sitting on this information in front of hundreds of others in the same field. Some of them MUST have known.

Roger Penrose was there as a key speaker. In my undergrad studies in Swansea, I wrote my thesis around the Penrose limit in GR, and its application onto gravitational waves. He would know just how big an announcement this would be. The temptation to tell gets even bigger when people ask bluntly “Have you seen them yet?”. I just wanted to jump up and down yelling “YES! YES! EINSTEIN WAS RIGHT!” — but that would not do. So I composed myself and told them simply the standard scpiel.

“The first observing run of advanced LIGO hasn’t finished yet (only recently finished). It will take some time after the run is complete to check through all the data, but rest assured, all results, even negative ones, will be published in due time”

At about the same time, the detection paper writing committee was named. One fantastic thing about a collaboration of 900+ people is that we can get science like this done. One down side is we almost can’t get anything done. Have you ever tried to decide where to eat with 6 or 7 other people? Isn’t that a nightmare? Imagine nearly a thousand people all trying to write a paper. That would be impossible without some executive decisions, committee thinking, and it has resulted in a really lovely paper, which is a joy to see.

Of course, the paper took time, and there were disagreements. During that period, the LSC-machine chugged away, and excitement mounted.

In January, the paper was all but done, and was shared around the LSC before submitting to the peer reviewers.

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And that’s about all the story I have leading up to the moment. But luckily, here I am on site at LHO, with our own little press event!

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The press conference starts on Feb 11th at 7.30am here at the Hanford observatory. Knowing that we were about to dawn on a new era of gravitational wave astronomy, I took this picture. It seemed appropriate.

We had to get up at the crack of dawn to be on site before 7. That meant a 5.30 alarm. But the morning flew by, and before I know it, I have coffee and I’m picking at the breakfast spread.

I sit towards the back of the auditorium, where we are live streaming the press conference that was being held in Washington DC (the one everyone thinks whenever I say “Washington”). The excitement was palpable. Not just on site, but seemingly world wide through social media. I guess that I have a selection bias.

You can see the whole press conference here:

At the moment when Dadid Reitze spoke those words, “We have detected gravitational waves”, the room burst into applause. I’m sure everyone who’s ever worked with gravitational wave detection in their lives was smiling from ear to ear at that moment. I know I was. But I mean, I’m new to this. I’m 18 months into my Ph.D. People like Jim HoughKip Thorne, and Rai Weiss have been working in the fields for longer than I’ve been alive! The gratification for these people must have been immense!

It was fantastic to see all of these people, David, Gaby (Gonzalez), Rai, and Kip, giants in the field, speaking about the project I’ve been working towards, about the facility that I was sitting in, and about the this achievement, decades in the making, was really great. They spoke eloquently and to the point. They answered all of the streamed Q&A questions well, and then, the stream finished. It was just about the fastest hour and a half in my life.

Then, our press conference began! You can’t stream that one.

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From right to left, the picture shows: Mike Landry, Shiela Dwyer, Kiwamu Izumi, Greg Mendell, Jenne Driggers and Fred Raab. They each spoke to a specific aspect of the lab, the detection, the history and the future, and each had a chance to get questioned briefly after their own segment. It was so obvious that the local press couldn’t wait to jump on this lot for questions.

Now, the press were local. They weren’t necessarily all scientists – so some more than others wanted to know that basics of the science. About how the wave form can lead us to conclude that billions of years ago, black holes inspiralled, or about what is mean by the terms “loud” and “noise” in this context. It seems like we are all so close to the subject, so entrenched in the lingo that it might be a barrier to the wider public.

Between each speaker the press would interject with questions for five or ten minutes, and so the whole press conference took much longer than was expected. But I found it to be a really interesting experience. As the panel went across, the speakers went from overview, to detailed, and back to overview. By the end of speakers’ part, there was seemingly little left to ask.

Fred, the director of LHO, spoke for the longest, and spoke on a wide range of subjects, from the time invested into this discovery, to the astrophysics involved with a merger like this. At one point, he made a comment that cracked me up. The context here is this: in the merger, a black hole of 29 solar masses and a black hole of 35 solar masses. The resulting black hole was not 62 solar masses, but 62. The weight of 3 suns had been radiated away. To that effect,  Fred added something like ‘The most energy ever released by humanity was from the Tsar Bomba, a soviet hydrogen bomb. It released all the energy contained in a 5lb bag of sugar. They realised it was inefficient because you can only kill people so dead’. I couldn’t contain my laughter.

After that was done, we hung around, and I got a chance to meet people. Since I arrived here, I’d not been given a chance to mingle so much, what with everything being so spread out. So it was really valuable to me. But then, as the announcement was early here, it was all said and done by 11. So back to work. The day passed like any other. Well, it tried to, but there was an air of joy about the lab. And media. The phones were ringing all day, and there was always a reporter on site.

In the evening, Mike had invited us to his house for a celebration. There was another reporter there too. She recorded the toast with her microphone. Oh, and the cake. I guess Mike had a cake made specially for the event. Here it is:

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In case you can’t make it out, it’s huge! It has plots of the detection printed onto rice paper, as well as the significance of the event on rice paper, with the words “LIGO” and “We Are Listening” piped on top. And it was deilicious.

Again, the party allowed me to make new contacts with my colleagues. Something that a friend back in Glasgow said resonated with me at that party. She said “Working in the IGR is like being part of a family”. I had always disagreed with her. I would think that I kept the relationship professional, that it was all business, and thought nothing more of it. But here I am, thousands of miles away from my Glasgowgroup, in the house of a member of my new, adoptive family I guess. We were celebrating the same thing, I was sure, and I missed my Glasgow family, but I felt so welcomed into the family at Hanford, it didn’t matter.  Of course, I’ll be glad when I get back, but I’m also very glad that I’m here.

For one thing, each grroup has its own personality, its own values, and lets off steam in their own way. Glasgow, for one, likes to network, often on a Friday evening, and often in a pub! It turns out that a fair few members of the team at LHO are musical, which led to, last night, the inception of the Black-hole Binary Bluegrass Band! They played a few tunes last night, in fact, Nutsinee said that she had learned to play the upright bass in a matter of days just for this event!

So after a vew toasts “To the next detection” and “To Hanford always hearing it better” (So, whilst the signal reached the sister observatory, LLO first, and they like to parade that fact, the signal was much more clear at the Hanford observatory),  and some bubbly, we were left to our own devices, but with the need to drive home and get to work for Friday morning, Darkhan and I shuffled home before long.

And I guess that’s the day from my view!

 

I had distributed the link to the live stream of the press conference among friends and family over facebook. Throughout the presentation, and in the following Q&A, I was fielding questions from my nearest and dearest, as well as words of support, and congratulations. Which, of course, I palmed off. I’m part of the team who did this, but I had no real contribution.

But who knows, one day, I might. This is just the first detection. There are other firsts yet to come. The first detection of GWs from a rotating neutron star, or binary neutron star inspirals, or some real astrophysics done on an ensemble of gravitational wave events.

 

To read about what others think, try looking at some of these blogs from other LVC members and enthusiasts! I will do a more texhnical post in time, and add the link here!

Shane Larson’s Harmonies of Spacetime

Daniel Williams’ Riding the Wave

Sean Leavey’s own view

Amber Struver’s article here

Becky Douglass’ GW: The Big Discovery

Roy Williams’ blog here