Reddit Meetup!

Last Sunday (More than a week ago from this posting) I attended a reddit meetup! Organised by the lovely folks at http://www.reddit.com/r/TriCitiesWA the meet up is an annual chance to meet people of like mind.

The plan for the meeting was to go to the Atomic Bowl at 3 and play a few games. Sounds nice, right? No obligation, eaasy to leave if everyone was a bit weird, and relatively cheap, fun and nearby! No reason not to go.

I decided that, as nobody else in meatspace (real life) wanted to go, that I would cycle the mile or so to the alleys. It was quite a warm day (it always is here) but the warm breeze in my face was nice.

I arrived to the bowling alley, not knowing who to look for, so I just approached a group of twenty-somethings who weren’t a family or bowling team. Bingo. That was them. Tentatively, at first, I said hello to everyone. I’m not going to name names here, just initials as they become relevant. A few of the redditors were PNNL employees, one a postdoc new to town. There were a few transplants, moved here from the east, and a few local boys, born and bred here. R was from New Zealand, and I asked him his thoughts on their recent flag referendum.

After a wee trip to the bar (32oz for $6, I’m told that’s about 2 pints), I was entered into a game of bowling with M, T, Jo and Ja, and let me tell you. Out of the possible points (10 frames of ten pins plus a strike bonus), out of the (more than) 100 pins, I didn’t even make it to 40. But I wasn’t here to bowl. I was here to meet people. People like Jo, who had been in town for about a year, and was a web developer, or a programmer, or something like that.

The rest of the group, excluding B, all seemed to know each other. It sounds like they tend to go out together regularly, to pub quizzes, or karaoke. (I have to go to kararoke with relative strangers. It’s so much fun). But nevertheless, everyone was welcoming, encouraging, and good chat.

The second game finished about an hour later, and I managed to not lose! I beat T. I was so proud of that! And only a little ashamed. Pardon the awful picture.

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After the game finished, we toyed with plans of food and a drink. McKays? the Emerald? In the end, we settled on Kimo’s in Kennewick. I came over on my bike, and Kennewick was too far to cycle, and on busy roads. And besides, it was too hot out to ride that far. But R stepped up. He said that he had a truck that my bike could go in the back of. So with that, we went to Kennewick.

We all had a drink (or two) and most of us had a meal (my ‘steak fries’ were thin and overdone, poor show, Kimo’s) and some chat. We compared stories of where we used to live, compared different states and countries IDs, and joked a lot. We sat outside, looking over the river. I don’t remember who brought up ‘rriver stuff’, but river stuff in the summer sounds great. It’s taking a car upriver, picking up a floataion device (inner tube etc) and a few beers, and sitting back while we float down to a prearranged location. Sounds good, right?DSC03836.JPG

We stayed there for a couple of hours, until it was time to call it a day, and head home. R drove me back in his truck, back to Mosaic, and dropped me off home. On the way, we talked about our experiences with discrimination in the USA. We didn’t really come to any conclusion, but that wasn’t exactly the point.

I hope that we all get to go out again at some point. Maybe karaoke, board games, some river stuff, if it gets warmer.

 

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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.

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!

 

LVC Day (5+1): In, and out again, LA

With the LVC over, and  no hangover this morning, I woke up cheery. We all spent the morning packing, checking the drawers, the bathroom, under the bed, for lost socks, a misplaced book, Jennie’s visa paperwork (don’t wanna lose that), before heading downstairs to get some breakfast from Starbucks. I got a “cheese Danish”, which was actually a custard filled sweet pastry. What is it with America and sweet breakfasts? We were in no rush this morning. Jennie didn’t have to leave until about 10.30, and we had about an hour to kill.

We sat in the lobby, eating and nursing our coffee, and watching a procession of happy LVCers heading out to enjoy their day in California, or travels across the states. Eventually, we brought our bags downstairs and checked out. Daniel and I left our bags at the desk, to pick them up later. We didn’t have to leave the city until the afternoon. Jennie put hers in the back of Thomas’ car, and we all piled in. Tom dropped Daniel and I at Nutsinee’s place around the corner, where we planned our day, and then whisked Jennie away to the airport.

Nutsinee, Daniel and I decided that on this last day in LA, we had to try an In ‘n’ Out burger. We hopped on the metro over to Allen station, and walked around the corner to the burger place. The sun was out, the air was warm, and the city was quite quiet.Jenne had told us how to order. There’s some sort of unwritten menu that you have to order from. I got a “number one”, when asked onions, I answered “grilled”, and added “fries well done” (on Jenne’s suggestion. The food itself was very nice. Maybe the well done fries weren’t that good for me, but the burger was very nice. A very good show, California.

After hitting the burger place, it was pushing towards midday. Daniel and I had decided to take public transport back to the airport, partly for seeing the city, and partly for the cost difference (~$20 vs ~$70). This, however, meant leaving a little earlier, but neither of us minded. So from In ‘n’ Out, we returned to the hotel to gather our bags and head out into the city. Nustinee came with us as far as Union Station. From there, she went on to Thai town to pick up some snacks etc. Daniel and I caught the airport flyer bus from the station there. The bus took about 45 minutes, but Daniel’s very good company.

When we got to the airport, Daniel knew his terminal, but mine wasn’t printed, and my phone was in “just in case battery saver” mode, so I got off the bus with him, and went off in search off my own terminal.  That, eventually, meant terminal 6, which thankfully wasn’t too far from terminal 2. LAX is a much smaller airport than I would have thought it to be.

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I arrived to my gate with more than two hours to spare, and the long week was catching up with. I used the time to talk to my family back home, and to read some more of The Princess Bride. *Bing Bong* “Would passenger Brynley Pearlstone on Alaska Air flight AB-XYZ please come to the desk for a message.” I was half way into a very messy (and somewhat disappointing)  burrito (I know, burgers, burritos, but that was the last food I would get until I got home at about 11.30 than night). Anyway, the point is that I had been mmoved into an emergency exit row, so that a family could sit together. And that was fine by me. Those rows get extra leg room. Bonus!

Fifteen minutes later, when it was time to board, I made a bee–line for my seat. Given the position half way down the plane, and the extra 2 feet of leg room, the area right in front of me was a perfect passing point for passengers and stewards who were trying to get to their bags, or to the toilet. After about five minutes of constant lap traffic (giggity), one of the stewardesses leaned in and said “Thanks for being so understanding, we’ll get you something!” and mimed a drink, with a wink.

Just before the flight left, I think right before the doors got locked,a stern looking olderr woman took the vacant seat next to me. When approached by the stewards, she flashed a card on a lanyard, and the stewards seemed to understand. I didn’t catch it just then, but she was obviously somebody important. Maybe an air marshal?

When the drinks trolley came around, the steward who had offered me a cocktail asked what she could get for me. Naturally, a G&T was on the cards. The gin came in one of those miniature bottles, which for no real reason, I decided to holds on to. It looked cute. The servings aren’t as small as you might think. It made for a very strong G&T. The whole flight up to Portland only took about two hours, and by the time I was done nursing my drink, one third of that was already done.

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When the food cart came around, the woman next to me got first pick of sandwiches. I decided it was time to ask. “I saw you flash your card earlier, but I didn’t catch it, what is it that you do?” She is a commercial pilot, flying for UPS. That makes sense. She asked what I did, and I told her accordingly that I was an astrophysics grad student. I knew that our two fields had a crossover. I had heard about a telescope that had been mounted in a Boeing 747, so as to escape some of the effects of being on the Earth’s surface. “Oh, you mean SOFIA?” she replied. She had worked at the same institute where SOFIA was operated! It was a nice moment. We chatted some more for the remainder of the flight, but it was only a short hop.

I had about an hour at Portland airport, but it was too late to call home this time. I made straight to my gate, found a seat, and settled in with my laptop. Portland airport seemed very pleasant. The air wasn’t oppressively dry as it was in California or Richland,  it was temperate, the greens and browns of the décor felt earthy. It made me want to visit Oregon state.

When it was finally time to board, I walked out to find another dinky prop plane. I think I kinda prefer it to the big jet engines. When a mother and baby sat next to me, I initially did the internal eye roll. Perfect. But after chatting to the very friendly mother, the girl behind us and the man in front, the baby seemed perfectly happy and even excited to be on the plane. She didn’t sleep at all for the 45 minutes that we were in the air, but she didn’t make a sound either.

 

Just prior to take off, after the aeroplane safety dance, the stewards announced that they had a complimentary local beer on this flight. It was, apparently, my lucky day! It was only a short flight, but in that time, I was offered a refill of my cup of beer. The mother next to me was good conversation, as we tried to work out what settlement constituted the lights that we passed over.

When we landed at Pasco at about 10:40pm, I knoew that everybody who I would normally ask for a lift, Darkhan, Vinny, Evan, Nutsinee, were all either still in LA, or visiting other places for the weekend. So I called a taxi, and rode home in the back. On arriving at the apartment, I didn’t even try to unpack, I just went straight to my room, put my phones on to charge, and lay in bed.

It was a quiet end to a very busy week. I knew that I’d have to come down from the social high of the conference at some time, as well as recuperate for some time. I knew that in the next week, Vinny would leave to Eugene, Darkhan would visit Kazakhstan, and would move in somewhere else when he returned. I knew that a week later, Hang would leave too. It felt as though very soon, Richland was going to be very quiet. For better or for worse. But thatt was to come. Right now, bed called.

 

 

 

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.

Walkie weekend

I spent half of Friday out at the X-arm end station with Vinny. It’s a much less cluttered area, but otherwise, it was pretty much the same. The drive down was strange, as the tumbleweed were stacked up 5 feet high next to the arm.

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Science was done, chat was had, and then we came back to the corner. On the way back, much of the tumbleweed had been bailled up. It’s how they deal with them – rather than just move them around and annoy somebody else.

In the evening, Vinny came over, we ordered pizza and binge watched Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia. It was nice, but kinda unremarkable.

\the binge watching didn’t end there either. It carried on as the tone for the whole weekend.

On Saturday morning, Joe and I skyped, then I skyped Chris and Joolz. I didn’t really start the day until about mid-day. The plan for the day was to head into town, top up my at&t phone, pick up a pair of gloves to replace one that Vinny and I lost, and whatever else happens.

On the way to at&t, I stopped into Roasters Coffee to grab something. The weather was cloudy, but warm, so I got something cold.I was done at at&t within 5 minutes and started walking the other way towards Ace Hardware, in Uptown. It’s right over the road from Adventures, and from the Caterpillar Cafe. At Ace Hardware, I picked up some new gloves, as well as a length of washing line – our flat has a little patio, and it would be nice to leave things outside to dry.

Then, on the way back, I stopped into the cafe and tried their peach oolong. Tasty tea was tasty. I stopped in there for 10 minutes to chat. Nutsinee told me that she’d be there in an hour, but I had things to get home for, and wasn’t too happy waiting there for an hour. So I passed, and started walking home. Turned out to be an 8 mile round trip.

An hour later, I got back and decided that, at 5pm, it was time for half an hour at the gym. I ran a mile and spend some time on various machines before coming back for a sweet, sweet shower.

That evening, after cooking a shepards pie, Hang joined me to create his mouseguard character – looks like he’ll be the leader, which should be really interesting.

After that, I went back to my room and watched a few more hours of It’s Always Sunny, and finished crocheting my StormTrooper!

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On Sunday, after Skyping Joe again, and a few more hours of Always Sunny, I decided to go for a walk in the park near to the apartments. It’s a beautiful day out, so I explore by the river too. As I was leaving, Nutsinee called to ask if I wanted to come to Seattle with her! She was going to get a tattoo of the first GW waveform observed. I would have loved to go, but I would be left to my own devices for  a few hours in an unknown city, it’s not long enough to discover anything or go exploring, and too short to be throw-away time. So I declined, and carried on with my day’s plans.

 

The Yakima River has been very high recently, and the smaller paths on the banks were muddy. It’s been “unusually wet” here recently – it rained twice last week – so I suppose it is to be expected.

A little later, I made it to the park

The sign said that pedestrians must give way to horses – but I do not like horses. They are big animals capable of real damage. I did not want to encounter horses, btu then, I didn’t expect to. I made a route in my head instantly.

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Easy enough, right? I made it to the north end, only encountering one other person – a woman looking around in the sandy path. I asked if she’d lost anything, to be told that she was looking for Agate – clear stones. I don’t know why, and I didn’t press her on it, I just put my headphones back on and kept on walking. On the path, I saw horse-shoe marks and piles of horse dung. Apparently, horses do come this way quite often.

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Here be horses

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The way back was not quite so simple.

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Due to the recent rain, the path was waterlogged in a number of places.  It meant that myt way home was way longer than it needed to be!

But it was pretty, and along the way, I ran into a horse – not litterally, but I had to give way to the horse. She wasn’t all that bad – a big white horse with a person on top.

 

I came back home about 4.30pm, another 5 miles. I relaxed for an hour before cooking food with Hang. As we ate, we watched some anime. Now, I’m writing on the sofa, watching more Always Sunny. What a binge!

 

Spooky Y-arm and happy hour

On Thursday, Vinny was still away, and I had work to catch up on from Wednesday. I had completed my laser safety training on Tuesday, and was now the proud owner of an access card to get into the end stations and corner station. After doing all of the computer work that I could justifiably get away with, I decided that it was time to go to the Y arm to give the magnetometer tests another go. But it is 4km away, and I don’t drive. Luckily, I came prepared., and at 3pm, I changed into my running gear, packed a bag full of all the cables and computers I might need, and went for a jog.

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Photo courtesy of Darkhan – I’m that little speck next to the arm.

Turns out that deserts are hot. Even a 4km run in that environment is much harder than it is on a treadmill, or even up and down the hills of Glasgow. But eventually I made it to the end, I let myself in, and after catching my breath, I got to work.

The magnetometer wasn’t shoeing us what we had expected to see from its vantage point next to the timing rack. I was determined to rule out any extraneous variables. Change this, take 15 minutes of data, change that, take 15 minutes of data, nothing changed. The reading we saw must be true.  I had one more talk to do, and that involved setting up the magnetometer on a new channel, with a higher sampling rate. Alone in the EBAY, my mind was playing tricks, I thought I heard a phone ringing, I thought I heard a voice, the lights would occasionally flicker. I did not like it very much at all.When all was said and done, I didn’t leave the Y end station until 6:10pm. Evan might still be at work, but I had better get back. As I step outside, I wonder “Why is it so dark”. Then it hits me that the sun was very nearly set.

I was already on edge, and here I was 4k away from the nearest person. I sent Evan a text “What’s the chances of an animal attack?”, and I went on my way, jogging, alone, in the dark. Evan eventually replied that it wasn’t very likely at all, and that there was no danger. After all, coyotes are more scared of people than we are of them. Thanks, Margot, for putting that into my head! Anyway, on the run (walk) back, I couldn’t help but look to the sky. This far out, you really could see everything! The moon wasn’t up yet, and all there was to see was stars against inky black. Eventually, I did make it back with the aid of my phone’s flashlight.

 

Once home, Evan says “Sometimes, there’s a happy hour on Thursdays in the common block” – and it was Thursday. Before we even get parked, we commit to happy hour – free beer and a semblance of sociability. What’s the harm? Well, it turned out to be a fun hour (and some). There was beer, a cheese/fruit selection going, about 10 people crowded around a little breakfast bar. I met Christina, a member of staff and resident at Mosaic, who was very eager to plan weekend trips to the peaks for snow sports, and to the local wineries. We also met a new LIGO recruit, Shandra, having only moved to Richland the previous day, and starting at LHO as a vacuum engineer the following week, it was nice to meet somebody to talk shop with!

 

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!