The calm after the storm


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 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.




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



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.


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.)



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!


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!



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]


LVC Day 3

Another day, another muffin. Another night of not as much sleep as I ought to have had. Another cup of coffee.

Wednesday was the first day of the plenary sessions, these are the broad reaching talks which are aimed at all of the LVC, not just specialised talks for those who work closely to the subject. Today was the parallel session for the LAAC (LIGO Academic Affairs Council), where I aimed my attention first.

I was quite dismayed to see that the LAAC didn’t do in their session as others had done in theirs. Instead of discussing academic affairs, whatever that might entail, the LAAC session was run as a tutorial for a discreet set of topics which are very relevant to some, and less so for others. After the tutorials, the LAAC had gathered some LIGO alumni who had since moved on to work in big industries, which seemed like a much more relevant topic. Honestly, though I wasn’t pleased with the content of the LAAC session, I wouldn’t know how to run one. It couldn’t be on university policies, or academic writing tutorials, as the collaboration is far to big to cover all bases. I just didn’t like that session.

At my first opportunity, I left for the other plenary talks, which were running in parallel in the largest room, where last night there was  dance floor. At every LVC meeting, the first few talks are “The State Of X” talks: the state of the LVC, the state of the LIGO Labs, the state of Virgo, the state of LIGO India, the state of KAGRA. Last year, at my first LVC, the talks were interesting, but thick, and hard to get through, as a first introduction to each detector. At this, my second LVC, the talks seemed like a jovial “Hey, how’s it going” exchange. Now that I’m acquainted with each machine (even slightly), suddenly, it’s a lot easier to be interested.

The general feeling was one of progress. In fact, KAGRA, the Japanese detector in the Kamioka mines, had managed to lock its Michaelson interferometer earlier that very day. LIGO India had achieved “in principle” funding, and was generally looking up, Virgo was well into its construction, but was teething, and LIGO was between observing runs, commissioning, but still reeling over GW150914.

After a brief lunch, I took a walk to the tea shop with Daniel. We discussed this and that, ideas about LIGO India and Virgo, and had some very nice iced tea to cool us down. The afternoon plenaries were more general overview type talks. Interesting, and nice to see, but not really much to comment on.

Later that afternoon, once about fifty people were bussed over to visit SpaceX for a tour (what, no I’m not jealous), we had the poster session. First was the flurry of sparkling presentations. Each a one minute snapshot of a poster as an advertisement. I tried to convince Vinny and Jennie to give a talk, even though they hadn’t prepared a slide. It was a “They’ll only do it if you do” kind of persuasion. Sorry guys! We moved into the poster room, and all milled around the posters.

This is the first conference for which I didn’t have to create a poster, it was nice to be able to look around. I had an eye out for posters on CWs and CW searches, but I didn’t see a single one! Perhaps I should make one next time, just so we get a showing.  I asked a few people whose poster wasn’t about GW150914 about their poster (there had been a lot of information about GW150914 in the months leading the conference). Some of the interferometry ones were quite interesting, but they were mostly from Glasgow, so I’m biased!

That evening, I had plans, meeting up with a tenuously traced family of a friend of my family, who lives in LA, and was described as something of a science nut. I had planned to take him out to a house party at Jenne, Jeff at Nutsinee’s Airbnb. But before that, I had to cram in some food. I met with Daniel and Sudarshan in the hotel lobby, and we walked down Colorado Avenue to see what was around.

We settled on a noodle place, where I had veggie ramen and Thai iced tea (which, by the way, is tasty). It was nice meeting Sudarshan – I had heard his name banded around LHO, as he was here for about 18 months before heading back to Eugene, Oregon. I never got to meet him before this week. Names and faces, right?

Having eaten, I waited in the hotel for Dave to show up. He was coming to meet me at the hotel. He arrived about 8 o’clock. On the way to the house, we chatted a little. He described his job – an editor for some mindless reality tv shows, the example he gave was Keeping Up with the Kardashians. But what he really wants to do is to be a writer. He has some children’s books on youtuve as audiobooks.

We  arrived to the house party, it was a pretty chilled affair, beers, sofas, music through laptop speakers, and a whole bunch of LIGO people. In one corner of the room, ten minutes after we arrived, Jamie started playing his LIGO boardgame with a few others. The game lasted about an hour.

We keep half an eye on the game, whilst Cao, Cody and I picked Dave’s brains about the media industry, about living in L.A., and he asked us a bunch of questions about gravity, quantum entanglement, and some other cool weird physics. After a beer or two, he headed off just after midnight. I stayed for another half hour and chatted to those who were there.

At the time of night when others were struggling to make plans to split an Uber, or whether to get a Lyft instead, Cao and I decided that it would not be beneficial for anybody if we stayed. We walked the mile or so home, and I snuck into the hotel room when we got back.

LVC Day 2

Another day, another muffin.

Though this time breakfast ofr me also included various melons. After a coffee, a mingle with some GWers, and a mouthful of sugar, it was off to the San Diego room for the second, and final day of the CW f2f meetings.

Today, many of the talks were focussed on sharing results from the old science runs S5 and S6 from iLIGO, as well as a few quick glances at preliminary stuff from O1. Not just the results, though, but updates in various pipelines. There was a little bit of musical chairs and some talks weren’t going to be presented, so others were brought forward.

At lunch, Jenne had promised to introduce me to her friend Greg, a researcher at Walla Walla (A town not too far from the Tri-Cities) who knew all of the good gay bars near Pasadena. His favourite was a country themed bar where they have square dancing lessons. It sounds fun, but not really my thing, and I didn’t bring the right shoes for all of that. We met over salad and pasta, though the lunch hall was busy by the time we got there. I managed to not sit by him to eat, instead sitting by Ryan – the network specialist at Hanford. Ryan and I spoke about this and that, having not really exchanged much more than a “hello” before now. So that was nice. Following food, a handful of people, myself included walked around the neighbourhood, to catch the sun whilst it was out.

After lunch, I headed back into the f2f talks to catch Avi’s talk. He had been doing some theoretical work on Ekman pumping and GW emission within a neutron star, modelling the length of this kind of glitch. I presented the paper upon which his work was based at journal club a few weeks back, but it was nice to see it again, and he furthered the work to predict the length scale of tCW emissions in various fluid models. It was a really interesting presentation.

After the next session, in the afternoon break, a few of us CWers met about tCWs. There are a core group of 8 or 9 people who work towards this, mostly distributed in Glasgow (myself, Matt and Graham) and AEI Hanover (Avi, MAP, Reinhard, David etc), all working on this common goal (all be it in a handful of parallel ways). It was twenty minutes to discuss ideas, implementation, and prospects for development and incorporation into pipelines.

After the break/meeting, I had decided that I would sit in with the EPO (education and public outreach) meeting for a moment, before Grant’s talk back at CW. Martin, Glasgow’s head of school for P&A was there, so before the meeting got started, I chatted to him about some ideas around the Glasgow Science Festival week in June, about some scrapbook  of highlights from this blog, a short video log in various places about LIGO, maybe a time lapse of the the Y-arm from the roof over a day to get the sunset and the stars moving around.

When the meeting got started later than I expected, there was talk about a board game developed called “Observe”. It’s a LIGO game, where players, each with their own model IFO, must prioritise commissioning, research or observation in order to first detect gravitational waves! Let me find a link – no luck, it wasn’t in the slides. I’ll come back when I find it.

[EDIT: The link to the game is here: It’s still somewhat beta, but it’s VERY playable, and quite fun]

Before we could get to the social media part, where I might have brought up this blog, I headed back to the CW room to catch the last two or three f2f talks for this meeting. Sfter which, it was time for the LAAC’s Detection Party.

We had each been given one free drink token for this night, though it couldn’t be used on the LIGO cocktails that were made special for the occasion. After an hour of wine and nibbles on trays, we were called into one of the larger rooms rooms for the obligatory speech from Gaby. (Gaby being the LVC’s spokesperson, who must spend ~50% of her time writing one speech or another announcement).

After some well picked words, a few rounds of applause, it was time for our world record attempt – the worlds biggest chirp. Chirping was a social media campaign started about the time of the detection, where chirpers would sing the sound of a BBH inspiral (Well, it’s really a BNS as they’re generally higher pitched and longer). We had a few hundred people doing it all at once. A ceremonial slice of GW150914 cake was cut, and it was go time for the party.


[Image credit to Conor Mow-Lowry]

In one corner of the largest room, the hotel had set up a small dance floor, and had some big ol’ speakers hooked up to an iPod. After a first dance from David Reitze and Gaby, everybody piled in and had a good time to some cheesy classics for a few hours. Dancing in Cali gets warm. By 10 though, the hotel said it was time to move along. My mind went straight to karaoke. A quick google showed that a place nearby, Barney’s Beanery, was the only karaoke bar for miles.

A handful of us, maybe 10 or 15 headed that was, but when we got there, the place was busy, and karaoke was off the table. It was, after all, a Tuesday night. We decided that it would perhaps be better to go somewhere quieter with a more chilled atmosphere. In the Beanery, we ran into some faces from the LVC – Christian and Melody, who recommended a spot around the corner, King’s Row, saying that they’d meet us there.

And that they did. It was a nice bar. We each had a go at buying each other drinks, we chatted about this and that, order 2 plates of chips (fries). Jennie and I, both from Glasgow, were talking to Melody a lot about Margot, mostly old stories from her days at Caltech. Melody and Margot were once, it seems, best buds. By 12.30am it was well past time to head back to the hotel. Sneaking in, trying not to wake the other two would get easier throughout the week.

[Header image credit: Nutsinee Kijbunchoo]

LVC Day 1

These meetings tend to start relatively early, not with the talks just before 9, but with the breakfast. It’s the first chance to catch up with colleagues since the last big conference, as many people come from far and wide. But for me as well, it’s a good chance to say hello to Glasgow researchers.

The GW community is very easy to get on with – particularly, data analysts from the CW, CBC and Burst groups tend to be very happy to get to know each other! (I’m sure the stochastic group is too, but I have not really interacted with them so much.)  For this conference,, people have come from all over the world – there are a few hundred attendees.antendeesantendees

Breakfast that day, as it seems to have been every day, was sweet. Muffins (mine tasted like bubblegum), glazed pastries, and fruits were on offer. And of course, coffee. What are academics without coffee. A munch and a chinwag later, and breakfast is done. There wasws a great deal of excitement, as LIGO just finished its first advanced observing run, and there was new data to look at for the first time in 5 years. The obvious announcement of the first detection asside, there is much more that the data has yet to reveal. This meeting would be a great place to share any possible first sign of whatever may come out of the woodwork.

The talks for the first two days of the conference are split into several parallel working group face to face (f2f) meetings. Certainly for the CW group, its a chance to share the progress that each group has made towards the working group’s many common goals.

Before the f2f started, I had a chance to catch up with my supervisor, Graham. I learned then that he reads these posts. Hi Graham. Graham was to chair the meeting with an iron fist – we had about 30 presentations to get through in two days, and historically, much like the CW pipelines, the talks have a tendency to run long! (That’s not fair – that’s common to all kinds of conferences). The presentations covered a lot of ground, from alterations to search pipelines to a look at results from science runs old and new – though the new results from the new were only rough preliminary first looks, it was exciting to see what aLIGO was capable of, right off the bat in O1.

The first break came at about 10.30, and I had a mission: to sort out my bank card. There was a Chase bank nearby, and they did, in fact, have a card printer there. I took the chance on the walk there and back to catch up with my dad, as it was still early afternoon in the UK.

In the second morning session on Monday, I made a few quick edit to my slides. I had agr to meet with Vinny and Robert ot go through them over lunch, so I wanted to have them in a presentable form. With our talk looming that afternoon, I could feel nerves starting to kick in. Even though sitting in the CW f2f felt very informal (and I’m sure I would feel a lot more relaxed if it was a [resentatiion to just CW folks), the inclusion of Detchar and Stochastic to the talk, and the larger room was a little daunting.

Robert OK’ed the slides, with a few edits here and there – clarification, notation, nothing major. Which was a relief. Working with Robert and Vinny benefits from their relaxed attitudes! When the talk came around, we just went through it, and took the questions and suggestions from the floor. The session was interesting – joint Detchar/CW/Stochastic. All of the groups are interested in probing deep into the spectrum with high frequency resolution, so noise lines and combs are of primary concerns. I think that the stochastic group have some really cool tools to help identify this kind of thing.

And with that, the first day was done. In principle, work was done for the day, though evening networking means that meetings and smaller discussions can carry on for much longer if needs be. I took the opportunity, on this first night of the conference, to go out for dinner with Graham. We had asked Alan Weinstein for suggestions – which we ultimately ignored. But Alan clued Graham up to the antics that I had achieved at the last LVC, in Budapest, where we had accidentally skipped dinner in favour of karaoke.

Graham and I headed out towards Old Pasadena to look for somewhere to eat, but with neither of us having a good idea of what was around, we settled pretty quickly on a compromise. It wasn’t out in the sun, nor on a side street. Instead , it was the Cheesecake Factory. It was nice talking to Graham, one on one, outside of work. It’s not something that I had done before, but it was refreshing. The conversation did eventually turn to work, but not in an ominous way, or a forced way, and I came away from it with a clear feeling of the direction I’m heading once I’m back from the USA, and a fuzzy feeling in my head from the beer. We came back to the hotel for about 7.30, and with the night still young, I set about making further plans.

Vinny responded the net I cast out. I met him in the lobby, where he led us to a car. A car, in LA!? He had a friend who moved here a few years ago, Derrek. He works in biotechnology. I got in the car and was asked “What do you wanna see?” Pretty quickly, we settled on Hollywood Boulevard. Well aware that it was a tourist trap, and probably not really worth devoting a full evening to. Besides, Derrek couldn’t stay out late. We whizzed along the highways and byways into downtown LA, found a place to park up, and strolled on down. We saw Iron Man, Batman and Black Elvis, all posing with happy tourists.

Outside of the Chinese Theatre, we poked around the handprints and footprints, and looked at some of the stars in the paving stones along the street. We wandered up to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – quite possibly the most bizzare concept for a musem – a modern day freak show, and recreations of things that seem freaky. I just didn’t get it.

After 20 minutes, we headed back to the car, and came back to the hotel. Vinny and I stayed up for a drink or two at the hotel bar ($9 for a G&T!) before heading to bed and drawing day 1 to a close.


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.


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.


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.


Old shoes? Ouch!

[Shoe photo]

Running shoes? Ah!


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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?


And in large amounts?


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.


That is all


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.


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”.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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”



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.



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.



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.


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!



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.


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:


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



Get the Ball Rolling

Another early morning. I woke up about 5am today, this jetlag is starting to get to me. I need to be able to have a little lie in another morning. Co I wonder into the kitchen, microwave a cup of coffee from the pot that I put on last night, and sit down to a bowl of Rice Chex. A shower later, and I’m off to meet Darkhan for the ride in.


[Source :WebMD, apparently!]

On the way to work, we stop to pick up another visitor to LIGO (whos name eludes me) from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). We all get to work, and on goes the grind. For the morning, whilst I’m waiting for a chance to meet with and talk to Mike, I read more, and I work on some Matlab stuff that I’ve had hanging over. Throughout the day, I meet some other people, like Alisdair(sp?) (I think, not a good day for names), another Glasgow alumnus, but a veteran, not working at Caltecxh and touring briefly between LHO and then LLO, and like Ellie, who is working over here for the remainder of the month, finishing up some stuff relevant to her Ph.D back in Adelaide. She’d spent a year here previously.

At lunch, I call Joe. Let me talk to you about Joe. As I’m writing this, the day after it happened, Joe has consented to featuring more heavily, so here we go. Joe and I first met during my undergrad studies in Swansea (South Wales, if you don’t know). We’ve been together for what is fast approaching 4 years, and they’ve been great. We are very much in love. Joe is still studying at Swansea, so we’ve been doing this long distance for two years already, since I graduated. Moving over to America has been hard so far. The time zones make it difficult to talk, but we try to talk every day, but its usually over text. He’s in his final year at Swansea, after which we are going to move in together in Glasgow, and that thought makes me very happy indeed. So whilst my time here in Richland is going to be great, it is bittersweet. Whilst I’m settling, it still feels bitter, but I have to give it time. I just got off the phone to him now, actually. Here, its about 8pm on Saturday evening, February 6th. There, it’s 4am Sunday morning. He was drunk, and sweet. And very drunk.



After lunch, I run into Mike as he’s grabbing coffee. We agree to meet this afternoon, when he has a moment. \time passes, tick tock, and we meet. This is the first time that I’m speaking to Mike in a way that isn’t just in passing. It seems like everyone is vying for his time, so I try to make the most. In this meeting, we discuss my strengths. That is, what I’ve been working on with Graham (my Glasgow supervisor) for the continuous wave (CW) search effort, and what I would like to work on whilst I’m here. I mention that I’m not so good with my hands, and would like to stick to coding, if possible. It didn’t seem that that went over so well. Between Evan, who has an old CW hat, and Darkhan, who is working on calibration (I don’t know what Vinny does – we’ve barely exchanged more than a sentence), there aren’t many practical fellows. Anyway, we agree on something to get me started. It’s a little fetch-questy, but that’s ok. It gets me to know people, and get familiar with some of the basics of working with the detector. He gives me some names to follow up, some software to look at, and he’s going to dig out an old report, so that I have something to do going forward.

So I send out the emails, look for some software, and after that, go out and try to look at the machines in the control room. The control room is a room full of computers and giant srceens all on one wall which read the live status of the detector. I log in, try to get acquainted with some of the software, and with no real agenda, slink back to my desk shortly thereafter.



Tick Tock. Time passes, and its home time. Once again, the jetlag has shattered me, and all I wanna do is sleep. But I told Darkhan that I needed to go do groceries, and that’s right, I do. So we do. After dropping the other guy (seriously, names, am I right?) back to PNNL, we go to a Safeway supermarket. It’s a really nice shopping environment, and seems much cheaper than Albertson’s. I buy, like, everything. Freezer food, meats, veg, fruit, dried things, cleaning products. The kind of shop that would normally come to £60+. At the checkout, I get a savings card, which brings the total from about $100 to $75. At current exchange, that £50 or so. I like Safeway. Then, Darkhan goes to get his food for the evening at the BK drive-thru, and offers to take me to a place called Fred Meyer to pick up some Tupperware. The place was HUGE. We didn’t find what we were looking for, so we went home.

Map time!


Back home, I microwaved the last of the bolognese, which was about all that I’d eaten since Wednesday. On Facebook, a friend asks me, regarding the expenditure at Glasgow airport “Doesn’t an F-1 visa have a grace period?” to which I respond “I don’t think so”, and then checking. It turns out that yes, it does. The end date of the visa corresponds to the end date of the program on which I am enrolled, and there are a few grace periods involved, but the information seems to be shaky, but it is certainly possible to extend a stay. Bugger.

And with that, I messaged Joe, who was then considering waking up, and went to bed. I was feeling particularly unsettled. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. I wasn’t yet in the swing of work. I wasn’t used to the time-zone, I hadn’t had much interpersonal contact outside of work. But I have a bank appointment, and numerous other things to do tomorrow. Better get some decent shut-eye.

[Featured Image Source]


Travel is a non-trivial pursuit

So, here I am, in the flat. It’s about 6am (PST – assume all are PST now) and I’m awake. Not the “I should get up” kind of awake, but the “I am up, what next?” kind of awake. I have a few things that I need to do before the day’s end. Get to the bank, go to AT&T (or similar), and maybe get some more food, for the evening and days to come. But for now, all that I have are stinky clothes from the day before, and a promise that luggage is on its way.

So I did what any rational person would do, and stayed in bed, on my phone for a while. I think I spoke to Joe, posted to facebook, you know, the usual. And after a while I decided that I could stay in bed no more. I was stinky and I was hungry. So I tried out the shower. Luckily, the apartment was enough like aa hotel that they had some soap and shampoo samples already in the bathroom, as well as a bath towel, a hand towel and a flannel. I can confirm that the shower was lovely. The pressure was good. The temperature was right. There is a heat lamp in the bathroom ceiling. It was all the right feels. Once out, I had to put on yesterday’s clothes, but I mixed and matched what few elements were available to minimise the stink.


Now that I am appropriately garbed, I venture into the kitchen to see what’s available to me. And the kitchen is lovely. Flat top stove, with a big microwave over it, and an oven underneath. All digitally controlled and integrated together. A fridge-freezer full of bread and cheese and fake butter and ham (there’s my food plan). But I need a kettle. And there is one! It’s a stove-top kettle with a whistle spout. So tea ad toast and telly!


The apartment comes with some kind of cable tv. I don’t know which channels are which, but it is explained what channels are available in a welcome folder. I flick through some channels to find some mindless TV to appease me until my bags arrive. And that was fine. I also took the time to check in with family, let them know what’s going on, and to contact those I needed to at Glasgow university. Somebody mentioned that I should call the airline (Delta) about my luggage, so I do. A phone call to the airport lets me know not to expect my luggage before 1pm. And so I settled in for a few more hours. It is in this time that I start this very blog!

Eventually, at about 1:45, my bags arrive! But almost immediately, whilst still at the door with the deliverer, I notice some damage! The zip sliders (not just the tag, not the teeth that interlock, but the slider that does the locking) have both disappeared, with the padlock which held them together! I was told at the door that perhaps the TSA got into it for some reason, in which case, they would have put a note into the bag. So I wrench apart the teeth, as one must with a broken zip, and there is no note. So before I unpack the bag, I get back onto the phone to try and talk to Delta about the issue. “I’m sorry, sir, but Delta doesn’t cover zippers.” I wouldn’t mind if  this was only cosmetic damage, but without the ability to seal the bag, it becomes a box with a flappy lid, not a suitcase. So I talk to somebody else, and she asks me to bring in the case in question. I have to tell her that, as I don’t drive, I’ll have to wait until the evening, after she has left work.

So regardless, there’s nothing more to be done now, so I unpack (throw things all over the floor, future Bryn can deal with that), put on some clean clothes (which felt so good), chat to Joe real quick, and left the apartment in pursuit of my errands.

But where am I going, and how am I going to get there? I have no idea where I’m going, and I have no mobile data left for the month. So I guess I have to find someone to ask. The apartment that I’m staying at is part of a complex called Mosaic on the River. It’s pretty swish, but it’s got a centralized office. There must be someone in there, right?

Terri-Ann was in there. I assume that’s howw you spell her name, anyway. I walk into her office and tell her that I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. Like a trooper, more than happy to help with a smile, she contacts the bus company to find the relevant bus routes, tells me where the Chase bank and AT&T store are, and gives me directions on a post-it note. She was very helpful.

So naturally, I ignore her advice. Not knowing what a bus stop looks like (they look like adverts on a pole, really) I instead elect to cross the highway and walk the way into town. I got a little lost, passing through the residential areas. I’m sort of struck that the residential parts seem really deprived. One-story wooden houses, often with a dusty front lawn and at least one car each in their driveway. The sidewalk (I’m still getting used to the different vernacular) is intermittent, as it appears some lawns extend to the road, and some sidewalks are just gravelly parts on the road side. I walked fast through some areas. Pasrtly because of time constraints, but partly not.

Eventually I make it back to the main road. Lee Drive, I think, and walk along until Jedwin street, where I have been promised by Terri-Ann to find a Chase bank branch.


So naturally, I walk in. At the counter, it appears that nobody has free time to see me today, and besides, I don’t have the right ID with me. I needed to provide proof of address.

So back homewards I go. But I don’t make it far before I spot at thrift store. “I’m gonna pop some tags”, I think to myself, and laugh a little inside, then die a little inside. In the thrift store, it occurs to me that there is nothing that I might desire from a thrift store. I think that a boardgame might be a nice icebreaker though. So, scrolling through the shelves of boardgames, I see four or five boxes of Trivial Pursuit. That classical boardgame which is fun for all, and torture if you don’t know the answers. The danger with Trivial Pursuit is that if the version you have is earlier than the culture that you know, then it is fun for exactly nobody. In that thrift store, there was not a Trivial Pursuit newer than 1985. So I left empty handed.

Instead, I stopped into a grocery store (Albertson’s) on the way home to buy some food. I decide that to settle myself, I’ll cook, but I’ll keep itt easy. Bolognese. But — I think — I’ll need everything from the oil to the onions. For $40 lighter, I leave the store and head for home. Walking back along Lee Blvd, I pass somebody waiting at a bus stop. We exchange a nod and a smile, so I figure I’ll stop to talk.

[Map time!]

“You’ve come a long way from Albertson’s!”

“Not really that far”

“Where you headed?”

“Just along Duportail, past the highway”

“This bus goes that way, and besides, you’re going the wrong way!”

So we end up chatting. She fronts me the bus fare, as I have no change ($1.25). Her name is Danielle. She grew up here, but has lived between Richland and Portland her whole life. Her parents own horses, and she stays with them now, to look after the animals. We had a lovely conversation, and she gave me a bus map, and told me when to get off. But more than that, it seemed that the whole bus (~8 people) got involved with our conversation, one moment or another. Turns out another guy on the bus, John, is also headed to Mosaic, so I walk back with him and chat along the way.

I get home. I put away food, and start packing away the clothes that are now strewn all over the floor of my bedroom. Just as I finish, Evan knocks on the apartment door. He asks if I got my luggage ok, so I invite him in, and show him the damaged luggage. He agreed to take me back to the airport later to lodge a complaint and see what can be done.

But for now, it’s time to eat. I write some, and cook. It may have been expensive, but about $28 of ingredients makes 8 portions of bolognese. I wolf some down and off we go to the airport. On arrival, we go to the Delta desk, put the luggage on a counter and press the “Call” button to get some attention. The woman who shows up is the same woman from last night. Long hair, beanie and hi-viz jacket. I explain to her the situation with the suitcase.

“We don’t cover zippers”

I tell her that I wouldn’t mind if it were just cosmetic damage, and I wouldn’t mind if the luggage didn’t have its extended trip via Seattle, and I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t compromise the whole bag, and I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t need to use it again. So I chased it. She says that she can lodge a complaint for us, but only after she’s asked her manager. Whilst filling the complaint, the manager emerged.

Now, look, the luggage wasn’t new. It was my mum’s. She told me “I don’t mind if it doesn’t make it back”. It won’t. But I didn’t know how old it was. When asked, I had to respond. “I don’t know. 5 or 10 years old.” – to which I was told by the manager “I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Delta don’t pay out for baggage more than five years old.”

So with the complaint filed, that was that. We turned and went home.

Then, I went to bed.


[Featured image source]