Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website,

Monday, 28 March 2011

Lessons for Those Planning a Physics Conference

Last Sunday-Tuesday saw a pulsar conference in honour of 5 famous pulsar astronomers. The trouble is that, like all astronomers, they're only famous to other astronomers. In fact the level of specialisation is much higher than that : pulsar astronomers are only famous to other pulsar astronomers, and you can substitute practically anything for 'pulsar' and it will still hold true. Some whiz produced a HR diagram for astronomers, and it deserves to be reproduced everywhere, so here it is :

Of course, measuring fame in Google hits is a tricky thing. Consquently these fab five were all completely unbeknownst to me, despite having made breakthroughs in pulsar research for longer than I've been alive. Which just goes to show that fame is a fantastically fickle thing. From the diagram we may infer that there are several ways to achieve fame through astronomy (but the majority of us never bother).

Strategems include :
  • Being really charismatic and writing a movie which stars Jodie Foster (Carl Sagan)
  • Getting ludicrously angry when someone tells you Pluto is a planet (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
  • Have a computer talk for you (Stephen Hawking)
  • Commenting on absolutely everything (Michio Kaku)
  • Lookin' weird (Brian Cox)
  • Being a really, god-awful dull radio DJ (Myleene Klass)
None of our fab five have adopted any of these approaches, which is probably a good thing. That does not, however, detract from their fame within their own fields. And as such, that means they deserve their own conference. Wooo ! Conference !

Now the last conference I went to was in the far-distant land of Hertfordshire. It was noteable for several things. Firstly, it was in Hertfordshire, which is little more than a glorified motorway service station, where instead of tacking on a Premier Inn someone decided to add a university instead. In other words, it's really dull.

Choose your conference venue

Then there was ESA bigwig David Southwood, who gave a speech noteable for its bigoted, racist slanders against... well, everyone really. That was educational. By the end of it I was feeling racist towards the British for allowing this man to go anywhere near Europe. However, it was utterly trumped by another ESA bigwig whose name escapes me but who had a thick Austrian accent. "Haartfodshaer" never sounded so good. Thanks, Arnie, you've saved the conference.

And yes I'm aware that the last statement could be constituted as casual racism, but don't talk to me about that until you've heard a lecture by Southwood.

Anyway, this conference had none of that. What it did have was, for starters, a much better venue. Arecibo does not aspire to be anything other than a radio telescope. Consquently what you get is a radio telescope with a visitor center attached. Although the sources of entertainment here may be even more limited than Hertfordshire (a place which has stalls that sell cups of corn - not popcorn, just corn), they're far, far better at exploiting those resources that they do have.

For starters they are very liberal with their free food, which always helps. Especially when that extends to ice cream sandwiches and root beer. Sensibly, there were tea-making facilities provided within the auditorium itself. Which also has a door that opens onto one of the best views of the dish it's possible to see - something which never gets old and certainly trumps anything Hertfordshire has to offer. Not even the shopping center can compete with that.

The highlight was definately the evening's entertainment, which consisted of a free bar (and more food) by the pool. In tragic defiance of probability, no-one fell in. This was followed by an observing session. Never before have I seen 50-odd drunken astronomers and students crowding the control room (along with with two guitarists and a quatro player) listening to and watching a dead star make a speaker vibrate.

So that's how you hold a physics conference. Forget the media stars, pick some people everyone's genuinely impressed by instead. Then make them gorge themselves with food, ply them with alcohol, get them all vaguely trying to do some science, and if possible push at least one of them in a pool. You won't get famous but you won't be unpopular either.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

After the Storm

In the last few days the temperature has risen from a pleasant 23 C to a stinky 30 C. Worse, the humidity has soared, so now I have to breathe soup (and the office air conditioning is still broken, so there's not much relief). This leads to wholly unremarkable thunderstorms. But it turns out that these bring compensation, though not the after-thunderstorm freshness you might expect. No, what you get here is fog. It doesn't do a damn thing to the temperature, but it does look like the kind of ground-hugging swirling mist a horror director would kill for. Such a sight is this fog that I even forgot to be cynical for several minutes.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

What the Tourists Don't See (I)

Or, "The Welshman Who Walked Up a Hill and Then Walked Back Down the Exact Same Hill."

In most tourist attractions that are also in some way workplaces, there are inevitably places you can't go. Even most castles will have various places that are off-limits, in case some imbecile should trip and stub their toe. And of course everyone knows that the off-limit places are where they keep the really good stuff that's just too awesome for the public to see, right ?

Well in the case of Arecibo this is really true, apart from the warehouse which is just like any other warehouse, anywhere. However, there are lots of other cool places. There's the receiver lab, where unearthly creatures (some call them "engineers") practise the dark arts of actually building things, the helipad (so far as I know it was used only once, when the governor of Puerto Rico came to visit) which has an impressive view, and of course the "I am inveenceebahl !" control room.

Alas this is exactly what it does not look like. There's no big electronic world map, no crazy Russians (well there was one Russian once, but he worked here and wasn't crazy, or at least no more so than anyone else) or armed guards, and amazingly it's all on one level. It's also rather smaller, about 20x5m I should say. Nor does it have any tanks full of explosive fuel or even liquid nitrogen.

It's got a stove though. And a CD player, with a stack of CD's no-one ever listens to. Oh, and a drinking fountain.

Someone's made this rather nice panorama, which gives a more accurate feel for the place than (dare I say it) the Bond movie. It's rather old now though, because all the monitors are black and are flatscreen affairs. For some reason all the computers here are Dell, which possibly explains why the radar keeps breaking.

Anywho, there are many other interesting off-limit places to explore. Today I shall examine the latest addition to the facility, the 12m dish. If it were up to me I'd call it the Severnaya telescope. Hmm, perhaps I'll suggest this at the next staff meeting. Or maybe not.

Some people may be wondering what on earth benefit a 12m telescope can bring to a facility which already has a 305m dish. Does Puerto Rico have an obsession with radio telescopes ? Perhaps they're trying to get one of every size. Actually, it's a VLBI phase reference antenna - or in laymen's terms it will do all the boring calibration scans while its big brother gets on with doing important science.

This rather adorable little dish lives on top of a tremendously steep hill, which is accessed through not one but two intimidating gates with DO NOT ENTER SIGNS. It's almost a disappointment to find that neither of them are locked. Indeed this is impossible, because neither of them have locks. Weirdly, off to the left of this photo is a small path which as far as I can tell just goes into the jungle, but is obviously used regularly by someone*.

* Or something. El Chupacabra, probably.

Beyond this gate there is a great deal of up.

Then there is some more up until the telescope, which is difficult to photograph properly because it sits on a rather small platform perhaps 30m across.

This rather exhausting little trek is rewarded not so much by the telescope itself - which sadly is not a miniature version of Arecibo, missed opportunity there - as by the spectacular views. It's the first telescope I've seen which has a sea view, which after all is only 10 miles away.

So after this I went back down again. At which point I began to feel that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Ironically, walking up a ~30 degree slope is far easier than walking down it. The problem is that one slip and the world would be quickly find itself short of one short radio astronomer.

Which was the end of this particular little excursion. Not perhaps, the most exciting in history. All I did was walk up a hill and walk back down again. But now you know what lies beyond the intimidating signs. In the coming weeks I'll show more of these top secret locations (I should be on Wikileaks) including underneath the dish (that's right, it's not made of concrete - Bond lied yet again !) and with any luck on top of the platform (the thing what where Sean Bean fell off).

Thursday, 17 March 2011

You don't know what I'm not missing

But I do. It would be easy to write a list of the things I am missing, but it would also be quite depressing so I won't do that - yet. Better to concentate on the things I've escaped from, like Emperor Cameron and Darth Clegg. And Jeremy Kile. Oooh, and David Dickinson ! Never again shall his wrinkly orange head soil my innocent eyes.

But first and foremost - laundry. I spend the last few months doing laundry even single damn day. It's tedious.... to the extreeeme ! But not any more. Now I only have to do this once a week or less ! And I only have to do my own laundry, not 5 other people's, so no more odd socks for me - ever. In theory.

Now I was intending to put here a picture from the net of some huge, record-breaking mound of laundry (lol laundry ?), possibly one collapsing under its own gravitational field. However, a Google image search for "epic laundry" does not, as I anticipated, result in images of said laundry piles. No, what you actually get is the following :

Which I suppose could be called epic but in very much the wrong way for my purposes here. I certainly wouldn't be complaining about laundry if for some unknown reason it involved a naked Shakira. Perhaps this lolcat will put things right :

So then, onto pugs. This creature is a squat, insane brick that runs around at impossible speeds bumping into things while emitting sounds no other earthly creature could make except while having an angry nauseous cat rammed down its throat while on fire. It's just possible, I suppose, to like one of the things. Not four. Certainly not all at the same time. Now if I find any piles of poop on the floor, I won't have anyone else to blame.

Manual cars. I've said it before and I'll say it again, they all suck.

Roundabouts. They suck so hard that Dyson is jealous.
I cannot find a funny of James Dyson. The man's always so damned happy. Perhaps that's the key to lasting emotional fulfilment, inventing a machine that gives a good suck ?

Driving lessons/tests. No more of them for me ! Ahahahahah. No longer do I have to check my friggin' blind spot when moving off in a perfectly empty street. Or have someone ask me daft questions about where the handbrake is or how to check the lights are working. Or pay people money not to give me a license.... yeah, that was fun.

Overheating. Ironic but true. People kept insisting on having the heating on all the time, for no other reason than to annoy Greenpeace/polar bears as far as I can tell. In a weird twist of fate, heating here is patently unnecessary while it's relatively simple to remain cool.

Mess. I may live in a small wooden hut on stilts 10 feet high (no, I don't know why it's on stilts, especially as it's on the top of a hill) but at least it's clean and tidy. On a related note, it tends not to poop its own pants or make me watch fascist cartoons about magical happy pigs every evening.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Trip to the Shops

Compelled by hunger and enticed with the offer of accompaniment, I finally decided that I could no longer live on cafeteria sandwiches in the evenings. There's only so much turkey the human body can handle before it gives up. Now since the observatory is several miles from anywhere and even further from actual civilization*, there are few options besides driving. Which is, after all, what I've spent the last uncounted months doing in order to get this blasted job anyway.

* Definition : place that sells things which are useful but unnecessary, like coaster holders.

While I've previously speculated that driving a car with all its controls mirror-flipped and on the wrong side might not be such a good idea for a nervous driver such as myself, I'm happy to report that I was wrong. Firstly, having everything mirror flipped doesn't really alter anything. You're still looking in the same mirrors; the only real difference is that the blind spot is on the opposite side. And this doesn't really matter anyway, except when changing lanes. In fact, the mirror-flipping and wrong side of the road more or less cancel each other out.

There are at least two other factors :

Good God we Europeans are retarded, thinking that having everyone drive around in multi-lane circles without markings, traffic lights and directed by massively complex signs is a good idea. To say nothing of double roundabouts, which are so preposterous as to beggar belief. WHY ?!?! What in holy hell possessed road designers to think them up ? The most likely explanation - it seems to me - is that there was a rogue eugenicist at the planning office, trying to kill off everyone not clever enough to navigate them.

Wow. These things are awesome. What in God's name did I waste my time with manuals for ? They're rubbish. I've heard people complain that automatics aren't fun, but these are probably the same people who think that sorting socks makes for a lively Saturday night's entertainment. In an automatic you don't have to worry about stalling - ever. Going up steep hills (of which there are very many indeed around here) this makes life approximately 6 billion times easier, and safer too. Gone is the need for clutch control - because there's not clutch - which makes moving off far simpler, and selecting reverse gear is no longer like trying to open a Chinese puzzle box.

If you still think automatics are not fun, then please explain how - exactly - a car that never stalls is not fun.

Not that this makes the driving process a cakewalk (nearly so, but not quite). For we have once again the Puerto Rican factor to contend with, which means that the other drivers are all mad. They seem to think that speed limits are more like guidelines (actually, near the observatory this isn't a problem because the limits are too low anyway but it's more of an issue on major roads). Changing lanes is done as fast as possible and without warning, and they probably think the two-second gap rule is something you're supposed to avoid. And the last time I was here some random drivers decided to smile, wave, and film us repeatedly with a camcorder stuck out of the window.

I'd like to take a Puerto Rican driver, put them in a manual and send them round a double roundabout. That'd teach them, but possibly not for very long.

This really is a story that doesn't go anywhere, because then I went shopping. What shall I tell you ?* I bought some food. Much of it incredibly similar to UK food, although ready meals and processed food are less in evidence. Most of the labels are thankfully in English and Spanish, so it'd be quite difficult to accidentally end up eating rat poison. So I managed to get food and not kill anyone - bonus.
* To use a Marco Polo phrase.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Curse of the SS

I've now commenced the process of actually living in the US, as opposed to temporarily inhabiting a hut that happens to be in the US. The first part of this process was getting a visa. The second part is getting a social security number, which has to be done here in person. This magical number, as far as I can tell, is a bit like National Insurance but way more important. For starters you need it for a bank account, which would be nice because then they'll pay me some money and I could move out of my little jungle hut.

I guess I could withdraw money from my UK account and move out sooner, but there's not much point. You probably need a social security number (if I call it an SS number would that be offensive ?)  to buy a car, because you need it for health insurance, life insurance, and pretty much everything really. And the first month on site here is free, so may as well take advantage of that.

Unlike a visa the process of getting an SS number is fairly painless (so far, anyways). You only have to fill in a single one-page form, answer a few simple questions ("Have you ever [done such-and-such] in the US ?" - answer always no) and show them a load of documents (passport, birth certificate, visa, etc.). Moreover the Americans have devised a system that's fiendishly clever that just would never have occurred to anyone British : if you have an appointment you don't have to queue*.

* However, there is also the Puerto Rican factor to contend with, which means that to get an appointment you can try ringing them but this won't work, so you have to actually turn up to book an appointment. Fortunately the HR people here - like everyone else - are so lovely they did this for me.

Alas it transpires you can't actually apply for an SS number until you've been in the US for 10 days. This is another one of those weird post-9/11 security measures. Consequently I won't get this magical much-vaunted number until the end of the month. However, to offset the bureaucracy slightly, next time I can just turn up and they promise not to ask me any more questions. But they still have to do a background check, which takes more time (so what was the point of the visa then ?).

But the best part of the process was the lady processing my application. Having a Welsh name causes a certain amount of confusion among foreigners who can't even point to Wales on a map and have only seen the word written down. I mean this literally. For example, on the way in the taxi driver asked me where I was from. Naturally I said, "Wales".
Blank look.
 "Err... Britain."
 Nope, still nothing,
 "Ummm.... the U.K. ?"
"ohh...." he said quietly, in way that very obviously meant, 'I've no idea where that is but I think I may have heard of it, once, and I'd better feign knowledge in case I seem terribly ignorant.' To my lasting amazement, the guy had no real clue where the U.K. is, a country 20 times more populous than Puerto Rico and just a teensy weensy bit more influential on the world stage.

Some people. We went to all that trouble conquering everyone and now they don't even know where we are.

Which meant there was only one option left. Feeling as though I'd soiled myself, I said, "Oh alright, England then." - "Aaaahh !" Realisation dawned at last. A little part of me had died, but at least he had some - albeit incorrect - inkling of where I'm from.

So you can imagine the confusion an actual Welsh name causes given the extent of the local's geographical knowledge here. Back to the SS office. In this case the exchange went as follows :

"So you're first name is...

[pause, blank look]
[look that clearly says, "this is entirely unpronounceable"]
 [no this can't be real]
[what the... 4 letters can't be this difficult, surely]
 [quick he's waiting whatdoido whatdoido !]

No way was I going to prompt anything. It's far more fun to see what people come up with on their own, and I wasn't disappointed. At this point most people finally decide to go for broke and say anything -popular options so far have included Rhiss, Russ, and even Rice. This woman, however, was completely stumped, and finally opted for basic spelling : "R, H, Y, S ?" The fact that she looked exactly like the old woman from Monsters Inc. only made things better.

I really wish I'd said "Yes, that's right, my name is R, H, Y, S, it's what all my friends call me. It's actually an acronym for Really Hot Young Stud." Or possibly Really Huge Yellow Submarine... or Reconstructing Historical Yeti Songs... so many missed opportunities. Oh well.

Monday, 7 March 2011

First Week

So I've managed to survive my first week on this weird jungle island. And although not much has happened I'm going to write about it anyway.

Things are not so bad. For starters the funny little visitors huts may not be the most spacious or quiet places to live, but they do have decking, and because these are science huts the veranda comes equipped with power sockets and an ethernet connection. Finally a long-cherished dream can be realised : the ability to play Oblivion while being outside... I'm no longer stuck inside behind a screen all day ! Now I can be stuck outside behind a screen all day ! Wooo ! GO ME !

Decking + ethernet = awesome

Since this is a jungle it features an abundance of wildlife (besides the damnable coquis), mostly some rather drab-looking birds and cute little lizards. They do have hummingbirds, but these are rarer - I only saw one in my 7 weeks I spent here previously. There are also larger lizards (and big ugly frogs too) but I haven't managed to photograph any yet. And no, there are no monkeys. There's now a monkey counter in case this state of affairs should change. It won't.

Helpful hint : click to enlarge

Not that there's anything particularly remarkable about an abundance of wildlife. My garden had more. No, seriously, it did. We had squirrels, rabbits, hedgehogs and woodpeckers and ponds full of frogs and fish which meant there were herons, and then there were the cats, dogs, and (occasionally when the gate broke) horses. And not so very far away there were foxes and badgers. It was practially Disney out there, only with less anti-semitism.

The observatory itself is also quite nice. I doubt there are many others which have a basketball court and a swimming pool. Not that I've ever seen anyone using the basketball court and doubt I ever will. No-one ever heard of an all-scientist basketball team, and let's face it, "sports science" is a bit of an oxymoron as far as real scientists are concerned.

Sadly, the pool is not as inviting as it may appear. It's unheated and I managed to take this photograph during the 20 minutes of the day when it gets any sunlight. Consequently it's actually very cold - certainly colder than British heated swimming pools and much, much colder than the Caribbean sea. That's not me being cynical either*; most people here don't use the pool because it's too cold, so there.

*For once.

I suppose I'll be violating some sacred British custom if I don't report on the weather. Well, unlike the pool, it's warm. OK, very warm. But surprisingly, it's not always that warm. In fact some nights it gets rather cool, probably because this place is well inland and 240m above sea level. Annoyingly I don't have any thermometer to say just how cold it gets, but the coldest ever temperature in Puerto Rico was 4 C (in the town of Aibonito at 730m altitude). Provided you stay inside during the heat of the day, dress sensibly and don't move around much (or it's cloudy), the weather could even be described as quite nice*.

* However if you don't follow these guidelines then you will rapidly find the weather is not so much oppressive as it is crippling in a trying-to-breathe-steam way.

It also rains here, even though it's the dry season which is supposed to last through April. I've been here a week and it's rained 3 times, twice at an unremarkable level, once torrentially for several hours. "Torrential" hardly does it justice. Since all things can and must be compared to Jurrasic Park, remember that scene just before the T-Rex attack where Alan Grant fills his bottle by holding it outside the car ? Well, it's like that, only very much louder, since these little huts have thin metal roofs. It literally roars.

So that's Puerto Rico for you. A surprisingly cold, damp  and hilly little island in the Atlantic where it rains a lot... hey, wait a minute....

Thursday, 3 March 2011

First Day

Well, here I am again, on this funny little island full of sunshine and frogs. After escaping from the plane I was whisked away by taxi straight here, arriving at about 1am. Naturally, after 24 hours of travelling and even more without sleep, I was far too tired to sleep. Isn't jet lag fun ?

Consequently the next day was something of a blur. Where to begin ? Well after arising from my lack of sleeping I headed to the much-feared canteen, a place I have often espoused as having as much to offer the culinary world as Colonel Gadaffi does to good government*. Astonishingly, thus far the place has not lived up to its previous standards, which is a very good thing indeed.

* Possibly if the Colonel was to swap places with the chefs for a week the world would be a happier place.

The bacon no longer splinters ! The rice has gone imperial (it's now served by the pound, not the kilo), the chefs have been alerted to the existence of animals other than chickens ! THEY SELL ROOT BEER. The King of Beers. At ridiculously low prices.

I then spent most of the day meeting and re-meeting people. Much time was spent in Human Resources, which es moi importante para mi por que it will eventually give me a nice shiny paycheck. Which involves getting a social security number and a bank account. They also gave me forms about health insurance (dirt cheap and simple), life insurance (here my brain melted) and investment opportunities for retirement plans (here the rest of my brain slithered away).

Umm... wow. Gosh. Umm.... I didn't plan to be here quite long enough to retire...

These things are slightly scary and probably only for proper grown-up people, so enough about them. Far more importantly, I got my own office. Wooo ! Of course, it's now my responsibility to fill it with toys, because that's what offices are for. The last one had a desktop trebuchet, which will be pretty tough to beat. I've got work to do...

At some point in the day I wandered back up to my little hut where I was able to get a good night's sleep, finally. This was partially because of the a.c., which is loud but very effective. Things were not helped, however, by my two other Puerto Rican hates which haven't changed at all.

The first is the frogs. One of the national animals of Puerto Rico is the coqui frog, so named for its distinctive "co-qui" croak. These 2cm long bastards are present by the million and each one is as loud as a person whistling. As far as I'm concerned they should all be squashed, electrocuted and gassed, but not necessarily in that order.

The second factor is the climate. I'm always amazed and disgusted with people who think a tropical climate is some sort of mythical magical paradise. What's wrong with the world ? It's horrible. Daytime temperatures here are over 25 C with humidity that you'd expect somewhere tropical. This isn't paradise. This is bearable. Still, night temperatures here are actually quite pleasant when the sun goes down - about 16 C - though the humidity remains annoying.

Well, that's about it for now. Unless you want to hear tales of my bravely re-drafting chapters of my thesis into publishable papers. Which is unlikely.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Flight of the Concourse

Soo.... the banner's changed. Again. Which can only mean one thing - I've actually defied the odds and made it all the way to the Caribbean. Hurrah ! Now I can actually write a travel blog, which is what I intended to do 6 months ago...

First, the flights. US Airways baggage policies are weird and make no sense. From their website it seems a simple matter of paying an overweight baggage fee (since I plan to be here at least a year and can't be bothered shipping stuff, the need for going overweight is a no-brainer).

Alas the website has much in common with Nick Clegg, in that its promises bear little resemblance to fact. "It's 38 kgs !", said the attendant, "You're simply not allowed to travel with more than 35." Which then became a remarkably complicated series of instructions to buy another bag (£70), and get the weight in each down to 23 kgs. The net result of which is that I ended up buying a second case, spreading stuff into the two cases (but not taking anything away), and not having to pay a surcharge - even though I'd actually increased the net amount of stuff I took on the plane...

Spectacularly baffling. Unlike the Arctic, which is just spectacular. The photos do not do it justice, but here's one anyway. These are over land, somewhere. The sea ice is equally impressive, because it looks exactly like giant marble. Everyone should see the Arctic from a plane at least once.

Luggage aside, US Airways are actually very good. What they lack in in-flight entertainment (which is to say, everything) they make up for in food (beef that tastes like beef ? that's more than Virgin ever manage) and seat quality. Unlike Virgin, they've realised that passengers can make their own entertainment for 8 hours, but not their own seats. Bravo.

On landing in Philadelphia they proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot in my eyes by having my connecting flight at a completely different gate to the one on my ticket (which I hasten to point out they'd printed that very day). I'd already been delayed at customs by the world's slowest queue, so to reach the advertised gate I'd gone on quite a brisk 20 minute walk.

I then discovered a surprisingly few number of people waiting at the gate, and soon found that it was because the plane was not there at all but at a gate on the other side of the friggin' building. In a blind panic I caught sight of a clock which said 5:30. The flight left at 5:45. So, whilst wearing a jumper and jacket and carrying a hefty laptop bag too full to carry them, I achieved near-Rincewind velocities through the crowded airport terminal.

This was made more difficult because the gate numbering system was obviously designed by a mathematician - specifically, one who has a weird grudge against arithmetic sequences. One might naively expect the gates to go 1, 2, 3, 4.... they don't. Well actually they do go 1, 2, 3, 4, but that's just a decoy because then they go 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 7, 8.... where the hell's 12 ?? I NEED GATE 12 AND I NEED IT 40 SECONDS AGO !!!

Gate 12 turned out to be cunningly hidden somewhere behind gate 14, for no reason. By now drowning in my own stinking sweat I discovered that I'd completely misread the earlier clock. It was still only 5:20. Or equally possible is that I achieved FTL capability and arrived before I left...

I shall return to the subject of flights in due course.