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,

Friday 30 September 2011

May I Live Here In Interesting TImes ?

Well, here I am again, back in this oh-so-tropical island "paradise" of sorts. It seems pointless to blog about Cardiff, partly because nothing very unusual happened and partly because 99.999% of the people who are actually reading this are from Cardiff anyway, and don't need to know what unusual things didn't happen.

Fortunately - or, as will become apparent, very unfortunately, I've arrived back at an interesting time. The kind, I suspect, that the Chinese had in mind when they invented that famous curse. For the official changeover of the management of the Observatory is imminent - Saturday, to be precise. While I was away I missed the farewell to Cornell party, but they saved me some nice gifts. Such as this fine clock, which is clearly modelled on the telescope in combination with the wormhole machine from Contact.

About 4 days before I returned I received an email telling me that travelling outside the USA while my visa is being transferred between institutions is quite a bad idea, and that I should try very hard not to do this. So, as my plane tickets were non-refundable, the visa transfer was cancelled so that all my current documentation is perfectly valid and above-board. That let me back into the country without the slightest hassle. The other options being to just go ahead and hope everything would work (to which, one institution said "that will be fine" and the other said, "OH GOD NO !") or effectively lose $650 in order to buy another flight back at a later date.

So far, so good. Except now of course the Cornell flag has been lowered, literally, and soon a whole host of new ones will be raised at what rumour has it was great expense. As my visa is associated with a specific employer, it will no longer be valid. Which I guess makes me a rogue astronomer (although not an illegal alien until October 30th, when I have to leave the country if this isn't sorted out). Naturally this idea has a certain appeal, although the idea of being an unpaid rogue astronomer is rather less intriguing. Watch this space.

This is the Puerto Rican flag, but you get the idea

Sunday 4 September 2011

Let's Recap

As my first return flight home draws inexorably closer, like a... really inexorable thing... it's surely time to reflect on the year's events. Which if you want to be cynical about it, and I do, means that it's time for the blog equivalent of a clip show. So what exactly have I learned in the last year ?


Don't do this. It's not at all worth it, certainly not in Europe. You'll have to spend hundreds and hundreds of currency units failing tests because of trivial errors that put you through the stress equivalent of a meat grinder when you could be, oh, say, hopping on a bus. Or a train. Or taking a taxi. What in God's name Puerto Rico is doing without any of these basic features only He knows, and as usual, He's not telling, the big bastard.

Incidentally, I'd like to take this opportunity to invite all my driving examiners out here to see the reality of Puerto Rican driving and then tell me there was a good reason to fail me. Because I promise you that nothing I ever did remotely compares to doing a U-turn on the motorway, double-parking to talk to friends at a junction or signalling in the wrong direction (or more often, never signalling - or equally, always signalling). 


One thing we can all be sure of is that David Cameron is a frakkin' moron, but almost unbelievably he's been trumped by the one-time darling of British politics, his sycophantic sidekick Nick "Closet Tory" Clegg. You sure had me fooled for a minute there, Cleggy. I thought you might actually be able to make an unelected coalition Government work. Nope. Sigh... why does no-one listen to my ideas ? Damnit people we need to be able to decide who we want in government !

Sadly, we've also learned the bitter reality that Great Britain is Great only at phone hacking, political corruption, idolising archaic traditions and - to everyone's lasting surprise - rioting. Still, we don't match up to Puerto Rico, where the murder rate is about 20x higher and corruption is rife at virtually all levels (including the milk industry, of all things). They don't riot so much though, because it's too hot. They may not have a Royal family to idolise, so instead they're sticking firmly with wanton animal abuse (i.e. cockfighting, discarding unwanted animals freely, appalling malnourishment of horses, etc.) -  presumably because they're all insane.

If we are to redeem ourselves in the eyes of the world then I suggest we attempt to combine our hitherto unexpected national talents. What we need to do is have the Queen hack Barack Obama's phone to dig up some juicy gossip on the latest exploits of the Guantanamo Bay Torture Squad (they have one of those, right ?) and then have her stage a riot.


It broadens the mind. It's certainly character building, and therefore best avoided. Sorry, Caribbean, but you're not for me. Your humidity is just too dang high, the lack of proper seasons is disconcerting, and the bright sunshine just makes me sunburned to the point of blistering. I was entirely right to dread the Caribbean climate, because I don't see how sweating profusely every time I even move for the suncream is at all fun. This is all, however, nearly compensated for by the presence of sea turtles, which I like to think of as pangolins of the sea.

Left : A land turtle. Right : A sea pangolin.

As for the States, well, I largely approve of what I've seen. Provided you don't mention...
  • The Southern Ocean
  • Soldering
  • Trousers
  • Chips (no goddamnit ! I don't want "French Fries !")
  • Crisps (they're not chips !!! Aaaaargh !)
  • Swimming costumes
  • Biscuits (from the country that brought you spray-on cheese : biscuits in gravy !)
  • Tea (they would not know proper tea if it raped their pets and stole their women)
... then you're probably fine.


Oh, right, that thing I do every day what pays my bills... Well, I've learned that space is quite big and contains quite a lot of stuff. So much stuff, in fact, that it's worth writing computer programs to do all the hard stuff for you. That way you can leave the code running to do the work while doing something useful, like drinking tea or teaching people unbelievably bad Welsh. It also involves a lot more debauchery than is generally mentioned in school.

The result of all this is that you end up with a huge catalogue of galaxies, sort of like a Victoria's Secret catalogue, only not really. Did I mention that I've been drinking some damn fine rum while typing this ? It's cheap too. The rum I mean. $10 a bottle. Doesn't really help science much. Umm... yes ! Science. It's good stuff. Largely consists of looking at static hoping something shows up. Sometimes, it does. And then everyone shouts, "Hurrah !".

For some reason, Victoria's Secret Galaxy Catalogue hasn't caught on