Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A Day in the Life

0730: Wake up and realise that I have overslept. Take a quick shower and run out the door to catch the bus.

0800: Catch the bus and doze off for fifteen minutes.

0820: Get to my office and realise that I forgot the keys at home. The next ten minutes is spent trying to find someone who has a master key.

0830: I finally get into my office. I spend the next half hour looking at the data from last night's big, bright, exciting gamma-ray burst.

0900: The dreaded Mission Operations Control daily teleconference. I waste an hour on the phone when I would much rather be looking at data, or even getting a root canal done.

1015: The weekly Swift/UVOT (UltraViolet/Optical Telescope) science teleconference takes place. Everyone is all atwitter about the big, bright, exciting gamma-ray burst that happened last night (and kept me up until one in the morning). We decide to write a paper on it and I get assigned the task of analysing the way that the optical and ultraviolet light faded.

1130: I spend the next hour and a half analysing the data and having a grand old time. This is the best part of my job.

1300: Buy a sandwich at the canteen and take it back to my desk. No lunch hour for the dedicated.

1315: Spend the next three hours or so working on the gamma-ray burst data. It looks good!

1600: Yet another teleconference. We prattle on to each other for about an hour and accomplish essentially nothing. I spend far to much of my time talking to people.

1700: Work on the gamma-ray burst data some more.

1740: Get a ride home with the person a couple of offices down.

1750: Arrive home, change my shoes, and go to T`ai Chi class.

1800: Spend two hours doing T`ai Chi. All stress seeps out of me and into the ground, where I never need to worry about it again.

2000: Go shopping for something for supper. I buy an ham steak, a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, some breakfast cereal, and a small box of cookies. Junk food rules.

2030: Arrive home and make supper. I make a rosti (potato pancake) and fry up half of the ham steak. Serve it with a green salad and drink a couple of glasses of water. For dessert I pig out on cookies.

2100: Socialize with my roommate for an hour or so, and learn more than I ever imagined about artificial legs.

2200: Write today's blog entry.

2230: Go to bed and read a chapter or two of Neverwhere (a great book).

2300: Go to sleep.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cool NASA Picture

This is cool. One spacecraft takes pictures of spacecraft orbiting another planet.

BC Politics as Seen from Inside the Beltway

This blog is probably the only coverage that the 2005 BC election will get in the DC area. I actually do not have much to say. The NDP got about 40% of the vote, just like they always do. The Green Party did not manage to elect anyone (as usual) and Social Credit (currently going under the name "Liberals") won with a little less than half of the vote. This is not much different than any other BC election in the past 52 years. At least the public-transit-hating NDP did not win the election. What is interesting about the election is that the voters soundly rejected the first-past-the-post voting system. Slightly more than 57% of the voters voted to replace it with a single transferable vote (STV) system that about 17 people on the planet understand. Unfortunately it needed to get 60% of the vote to be adopted for future elections. If the proposed new system was not so incredibly opaque it would have easily raced past that mark and BC would have an electoral system that actually produced results that match the way people vote. STV is a fundamentally good idea, but it is far too complex. Let's hope that the next step in BC is not the STV supporters trying to convince another 3% of the voters, but that the people who want electoral reform throw their enthusiasm behind a more intuitive system, such as the mixed proportional representation system that has worked so well in other parts of the world. Electoral reform can easily become a reality in BC, if the people who are working for it are willing to move on from the results of this election.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Coffee for Non-Snobs

Coffee. It is what fuels western civilization. There are those who say that coffee in undrinkable unless if it is made with Kona beans, or Jamaica Blue Mountain, or something similarly expensive. There is some truth to this. However, most of the time the reason that a cup of coffee is undrinkable has nothing to do with the coffee. Here are three simple rules for making a decent cup of wake-up juice. They will not save coffee made with Safeway Bargain Blend, but failing to follow any one of these rules can make even the best beans taste like industrial sludge. First, use clean equipment. Nothing destroys the taste of coffee quite like yesterday's coffee does. Use hot water and mild soap to clean your equipment after each use. Do not let old coffee or grounds sit in the pot. Clean up immediately. Second, use water that tastes good. There is no need to go to extremes, like using distilled water, but if you don't like the taste of the water on its own, you will not like the taste of it in coffee. Third, use a china cup or ceramic mug. Never drink coffee from a paper, styrofoam, or metal cup, unless if you are in the mood for the taste of paper, styrofoam, or metal. One should taste the coffee, not the mug. That is it. Follow these three rules and most coffee will taste good.

Friday, May 13, 2005

All the Geeks Will Want One

I think that I have found the perfect new computer for me. If only fish could live in mineral oil. My German is fairly useless, but as near as I can tell our hero got annoyed with the noise of the forced-air cooling in his computer so he simply dumped his entire motherboard into an aquarium filled with mineral oil. No modifications were necessary; he even left the fans running to keep the oil moving about. The only thing not submersed in oil is the hard disk.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Doctor Who. Where? When?

I have found another problem with living in the USA. Don't get me wrong, I like it here. The USA has a lot going for it, even if people here do think that red is the colour of conservatism. The problem is that BBC's new Doctor Who series is not being shown here. The only way to see Doctor Who is to be lucky enough to live near enough to the Canadian border to get CBC tv. CBC, for those who live in the USA, is the Canadian Broadcasting Company and is widely recognized as one of the best publicly-owned tv networks on the planet. But most people in this country have never heard of it. This brings up a general problem with tv in the USA: almost all of it comes from inside the USA. To be fair there are networks like Telemundo that broadcast in Spanish, but they are still American stations. Unless if one lives in a border town it is very unlikely that the local cable company will carry any station that originates outside the USA. This means that Americans tend to be rather insulated from what the rest of the world thinks, which is never a good thing. There is a lot of good in American tv. The Simpsons, Battlestar Galactica, King of the Hill, and Smallville, to name but a few, demonstrate that television has finally become a medium that can tell stories as well as the best traditional literature does. We may be on the edge of a paradigm shift in the way that we tell stories thanks to American tv. However, I still regret that I can not see the new Doctor Who which, judging from some reports, belongs in the upper echelons of today's tv shows.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Life in the Fallout Zone

Guess where I live. It is about where 495 and 295 intersect on the map. If the wind is from the southwest, and someone decides the set of a ten kiloton nuclear bomb next to the White House all that would be left for me to do is say good-bye to my spice rack. DC Fallout Map Living in the DC (well, okay, technically I am living in Maryland) is a bit like having a vineyard on the slopes of Mt Etna: know what is going to happen, you just hope that it happens when you are somewhere else. Fortunately, there are too many good things in life to spend much time worrying about what might happen. I am at much greater risk when I cross the street to get to work each morning than I am from an atomic attack. The odds of me dying of food poisoning dwarf the odds of me dying from biological weapons. The most dangerous chemical threat in my life is the cat's litter box. I do want to live forever, but I do not want to spend that eternity worried about what I can not control. This map was intended to scare me, but in the end it just reassured me.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Time and Squid Wait for No Man

Today's Globe and Mail has a nice article about a man who caught a jumbo squid off the B.C. coast. These squid are perhaps the most viscous mollusks in the oceans. As the Globe and Mail writes:
Imagine Todd Bertuzzi with bulging eyes, eight arms, two tentacles, three hearts, a beak for a mouth, a brain wrapped around his esophagus and gullet with a willingness -- nay, eagerness -- to dine on his own kind every other meal, and you get a sense of how the squid has earned such a fearsome reputation.
If squid jigging isn't your thing there is a convention at MIT on Saturday, May 7, 2005 for time travellers. I have a T'ai Chi class that day, but perhaps I will go last year.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Red or Blue

One can usually tell whether a US baby boomer votes red or blue from whether or not they got laid during the Summer of Love.