Two astronomers. Separated by only 22 degrees, 58 minutes of latitude, 33 degrees, 29 minutes of longitude, yet seemingly worlds apart. Their common goal: figure out the very nature of the Universe and its womenfolk.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Some pros and cons

Things I miss from the UK:
1. The world service. To rectify this i need an am radio tuned into 1030 MHz. ÷łAt the moment I know only of an arab FM channel that broadcasts the world service for 1 hour a day. Despite having signed up for all available BBC podcasts (save the archers, and womans hour) this only provides me with about 45 minutes of radio. Not only that but its inevitably a day late.

2. Queuing. I never thought I would say I miss a good english queue, but here its a fight for survival. People will miss the bus if they dont elbow their way forward. It actually caused me slight convulsions of disbelief a few days ago when I foundmyself part of an eastern european scrum for the bus.

3. Acceptability of (over) drinkning. Not that I often partook in the binge drinking culture of the UK (events at Chase and Jimmy's aside), but it was quite nice to go for a pint after work with my mates. Not only that but the beer was more than a few percent.

4. Pork products (as explained in previous blogs): Bacon, salami, Prosciutto, Jambon, Serrano, belly pork, ribs, etc.

5. Shaun and Carlos. No explanation needed.

Things I dont miss from the UK.

1. Quality of living. England is EXPENSIVE. Not only that but the quality of life is relaitvely low. Buying nice food is expensive. Here its cheap. For 10 quid i can buy nice shopping for a week.

2. Going out. In the durham going out is usually a mix of 50 year-old unsophisticated (and frankly embarassing) binge drinkers with far too much unnecesarry flesh on display, and poncy students who think they own the world. The crowd here is calm, relaxed, trendy, and cool. And night life continues past 11.

3. Aggression. Besides the fact that israel is in a state of perpetual war, Israeli people are completely un-aggressive. No one screams at you, theres no shouting from drunkards, no street brawls (like i witnessed daily outside the angel). When people get drunk they laugh, instead of fighting and causing stress

4. The plumbing. Despite being arid and located in a dessert, Israel has mixer taps. Not scalding my face when I wash up at night is a refreshing reintroduction to the modern world.

5. Compitent public transport. Depsite being less than 1/4 of the size of britain, its refreshing to have public transport which functions totally effectively. The buses run on a schedule (of sorts) and are fast and cheap. The trains are comfortable, seldom delayed and also good value for money.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Homus v Gouda

The weekend is here. It feels slightly wierd saying that on a thursday, but then again people on North road celebrate the weekend on thursday, so I guess its not that wierd.

I now have a bonfide hebrew univeristy email account. Im starting to feel more and more like permanent fixture.

An intersting element of israeli society, is that they have quite a low uneployment rate. Everyone works. This means that when I get up at 10 and hop on the bus at 1030, the bus is empty. COMPLETELY empty. Me and the bus driver. For 30 minutes today he picked up one person. I almost felt like i had my own chaffeur. Except it was a bus.

There are a vairety of small challenges that a different cuisine presents. For example, people in Israel (as people in spain or italy) eat their major meal at lunch. This inevitably means a longer lunch break plus a longer digestion time. This allows you to work longer and eat a small dinner. Coming from Europe, this is upside down and it takes a while to get used to it: no quick sandwhich at the desk! Another small but difficult challenge is the lack of continental cheese. Parmigianno cheese, a crucial ingredient in many pastas (which make up at least 60% of my culinary repertoire) is not easy to come by. Most of the cheeses sold in israel are soft. Cheddar, camembert, gargonzolla, and pecorino sardo arent easy to find. Needless to say, prosciutto, jambon and serano are as difficult to find as good homus is in england. The wine is overwhelmingly from the Carmel valley (not exactly burgundy!) and imported wine is double the price. Plus few people actually drink wine with dinner (for the afore mentioned reason that dinner is a minimalistic affair).

At least the olive oil is virgin and and mayonnaise, Hellman.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Settling into the med

Here in the mediterranean things work differently. 1230 means 1245. Cell phone use is tollerated everywhere (classrooms, in the middle of conversations). Lunch lasts 2 hours. The lager is 4 %. Schedules exits, but are flexible.

Television is particularly interesting: Israeli politcs talk shows are a jumble of arguments (which I cant understand). There is no moderator and the panel members interrupt eachother every few seconds. He with the loudest voice and most ferocious tone wins the debate. The stations I get on my little cable box are a mix of turkish soaps, egyptian game shows and expat channels. ESPN shows rodeo. Eurosport airs drag racing. The premiership is viewed as the ultimate in football: English commentators can be heard in the background, behind the russian ones (why dont they just mute the english?) while subtitles in Hebrew line the screen.

Despite being here for all of 4 days, my boss has already enlisted my support in drafting a grant proposal. Although this appears to be a minor task, I'm sure it will actually be quite tough seening as I have no experience in the subject. I still have not aquired a bonafide email address, but that may equally be due to my nostalgia rather than IT incompetance. Although perhaps it is also a reminder that here things work slower. What amazes me is the resourcefullness of the israelis. They have turned a barren wasteland into a fruitful country with little help from the outside world. Since it is harder to obtain high performance computing here, they manage by writing smart algorithms to solve the problems they are interested in. Whereas my lakadasical coding style was acceptable when I had 512 processors to use, here I must be much more efficient. This in itself will be a challenge.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Toto Revival: For Shame

Yes, it's true. Am back to coding, having submitted the paper finally to MNRAS in addition to astro-ph. Both events surely rank among the most stressful events of my life. Anyway, my renewed exploits in the Codeville permit a return to immersing myself in music (Nozbo, I am however remaining vigilant to your covert "poking" attacks).

I'm afraid I have relapsed into listening to Toto. They really are the cheesiest rock band ever, and by some margin. This notwithstanding, some of the tunes are God-damn-unstoppably-groovetastic. I've had a real job to avoid singling along.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Faint echo on Durham's social radar

Thank God (or whoever is prayed to where you are, particularly now that we have an international feel) that Noam has kept things ticking over. I've just dropped off the radar over the last fortnight, and am hoping to that this post will signal a shift in the trend.

It's been a difficult couple of weeks for many reasons (losing to Cosmic, the stress of paper finishing and submission, dealing with arseholes i.e. estate agents), generally feeling ill and SAD-ridden), but they've not been without their reward. Firstly, as Jim pointed out, I have a new toy (I went straight for the Nelsonic "Victory" as my machine name) and I also have a paper that I hope will appear on astro-ph tomorrow morning. Sadly it still hasn't reached MNRAS as their upload system keeps shafting me, but I hope to resolve immediately I reach the office tomorrow. Also, I spent the weekend in Lincoln with the family, which is always a nice way to forget astronomy, do some cooking, drag my dad to the pub to watch the Saturday lunchtime football, and catch up with my old buddy Sam.

So what now? Well, the football season is underway - must get fit - and the arrival of the new toy means that I am duty bound to devote some time to dalsim. I feel a meal coming on, and some port. Craig, Jim, what see ye?

Enforced Relaxation

Perhaps one of the strangest things about being in a country of jews is that the weekend is pushed forward one day. On thursday afternoon, people wrap up work and say "see you sunday". I dont think I have ever said that before now. Sunday comes and sure enough everything is back to normal. The tenacity with which the sabbath is observed reminds me of sunday in bavaria. NOTHING is open. Buses dont run from friday 5ish to saturday 6ish. Telephones arent used. Streets are empty. Restaurants and cafes closed. Most christians who live in israel go to church services on saturday since this is the day of rest.

This seemingly fundamentalist aprouch has its advantages: my girlfriend is always telling me how one day a week people should be forced to relax. How in the west the "rat-race" mentality to life, career, family, etc. is feuled by the lack of value placed on being forced to rest your mind from your daily grind. Certainly the lack of activity has this effect. However some of us like to relax with a sunday paper and a coffee: with all stores closed it aint easy to buy these necesarry tools.

Jerusalem is definitely a strange place. Arabs speak hebrew to eachother. Greek Orthodox priests with long gray beards and black robes listen to ipods. Russian is heard almost as much as hebrew (imagine: Israel was a country of 5 million in 1994. Now it is 6.5 million. All of this growth is attruibuted to new immagrants from the former USSR). Black "fallusha" ethiopian jews listen to israeli hip hop and dress like ganstas from compton. At least 80% of men wear some form of head covering (usually this is like a religious ID: the orthodox wear fedora's the chasidm shorter hats. Conservatives small, usually, colourful skull caps. Yeminites wear large ones, arabs wear white ones, etc.). Learnging what the distinction between all these different groups is will surely take some time.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

You gotta weapon?

I have been in land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rachel and Miriam; Jesus, John and James for exactly 24 hours. The mediterrenean climate was the first thing to smite me like the plagues smote pharoah. 33 degrees in October? My sweater, and jacket were promptly put away before I got to the end of the airplane gang way. The Lord himself must have wanted to deliver me from the diaspora with a sweat taste in my mouth since when I checked into my flight at Newcastle airport at 445 am, the BA check in lady said to me: "Mr Libeskind, it appears that you have been randomly selected for an upgrade to business class." To my delight I asked her why, and the longer she spent trying to figure it out the more I felt that she would soon discover her mistake and demote me back to slave class. So I quickly shrugged off the enquiry with a "oh never mind", and enjoyed the perks of "random selection" (for once i felt like one of those privaledged dm particles that makes it into the dot plot).

I arived at my student-esque apartment on Guatemala street in the evening. My apartment is in a student flat that would normally house 6 students in 3 bedrooms, but as a post-doc my space is more respected? The empty space is completely wasted, although for less than 200 quid a month (with 75 quid subsidized by my fellowship) I feel for once in my life i can waste real estate space. Needless to say there isnt a housing shortage in Jerusalem.

As I awoke this morning I noticed an Uzi-carrying guard decked out in black guarding my apartment building. Whats the correct ettiquette with which I adress this man? I mean, from my time in New York, I know you raise your eye brows and smile to a janitor, say a full "Hello" to a doorman, a "Hello, thank you" to some one who opens the door for you, and maybe even a "have a nice day" to the concierge of a hotel. But not only do I not want to distract the guard who is protecting my building from multiple immanent suicide attacks, with an insignificant acknowledgement of his presence, but Im also totally petrified by the question "You gotta weapon?" he asks me every time I enter the building. Actually this question is one of the few sentences I have learned in hebrew (together with "Ani lo medaber Ivrit" - I dont speak Hebrew) since it is asked ALL the time. Upon entering a bank, the university, my house, a supermarket, the bus station: its always asked before a quick check of your bag and a wave of a wand. So many people are armed in this country that it reminds me of what mafia torn sicily must have looked like in the days of Vito Corleone.

And thats not the only similarity with sicily. trying to open a bank account this morning was an equally unpleasent exercise in beurocracy and how needless it is. In short: I arrive at the bank (with all the relevant documents). I spot the manager and ask him how i open an acount. He points me in the directions of some desks with some people congregating around them. After waiting for some time I get my chance with the woman behind the desk who sends me upstairs to talk to the manager, who sends me downstairs again. I quickly learn that the congregation of people mulling around the desks (resembling a FOF group with a linking length of 10) is in fact some sort of queue, yet without any priority given to anyone. At first, my british ettiquette gets the better of me and I try to stand in line, patiently waiting my turn. I make a mental note of who is there before me and who arrives afterwards. However, it becomes quickly appearent to me that the loose congregation of a queue more closely resembles the darwinian struggle for survival, as people are blatantly pushed aside. Soon I realize that if I dont grow a brain (and some muscle) I will go the way of brontosaurus. As someone gets up from the table, I grab the seat pulling it from under the disgruntled hasidic family of 7 who tried to get there first (I noted however that they entered the bank a good 20 minutes after myself). Finally I have the teller to myself who makes me sign on the dotted line for 30 minutes (I signed my name 41 times and initialled paragraphs 16 times, without having any idea what i was doing). So now I have a bank account. The hassidic family alas didnt survive as the bank closed and since they hadnt a teller they were escorted out. Thats the darwinian nature of israeli beurocracy!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ultimate Dinner Party

Cliche, cliche, I know, I know. Bugger it. So - who would I invite to my ultimate dinner party? I'd love to hear Noam's views on this one too. Anyway, here goes:

1. Gordon Ramsay.

Ramsay's approach to his profession embodies everything that I want to, but alas cannot, bring to my own. He's utterly committed and fantastically skilled - and expects everyone around him to be the same. I'd love to be in that position but lack the drive and talent. I can swear as well as he can, mind. I just hope he wouldn't berate my sausage pie.

2. Richard Farleigh

From BBC2's awesome "Dragon's Den", Farleigh is a businessman with talent like Gordon Ramsay's, a similar ruthlessness in his operation, yet he's also a bloody nice guy. Even when facing utter morons, he politely declines to invest rather than taking Theo Paphitis' approach - rant like a mindless autocrat. I think Richard would win extra brownie points by bringing a fine bottle of port.

3. Terry Wogan

Wogan makes me feel happpy about the world, which is perhaps the most important quality anyone can possess. For years, I merrily faced cold mornings thanks to Tel's cheery banter on Radio2. His wit is scandalously underrated, and he would be the joker at the table, I'm sure. Although if he pulls out a bucket full of change for Children In Need, I'll deny him pudding. There's a time and a place, Tel...

4. Jeremy Paxman

For the serious table chat, Jeremy would be the centre of attention. I love Paxman because, like Ramsay, he's the ultimate professional and doesn't suffer fools gladly. I bet he has some great banter about political scandals. I'd have to be on my toes though - one intellectual error and I'd be toast.

5. Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, KB

Time to bring out my big gun. Nelson, Britain's - nay, the world's - greatest hero, would be honoured with the seat at the head of my table (not that there's much room around it). I'd probably spend most of the night chatting to Nelson about his days in the navy - not that he'd want to discuss tactics: "go straight for 'em". I'd also ensure that the condiments were kept at the other end of the table, so he'd need to "trouble you for the salt". I'd need to discover what's in grog before the party - I wouldn't want a mutiny on my hands.

6. Jane Seymour

Eek, not much gender balancing - I'll try to rectify it. Jane would not doubt provide interesting chat about Roger Moore's ways, and her days on "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman". Interesting that previous Bond, Sean Connery, played the "Medicine Man" in the film of the same name. Anyway, I fancy Jane so she might be ideal for drawing my attention away from Nelson.

7. Bill Murray

Oh how Bill and I could natter - what was it like to film Ghostbusters, has he seen Scarlett Johansson's bottom, etc, etc? I'd be worried what'd happen if he and Wogan got carried away, but it'd be worth it. If I ate my dinner too quickly, I'm sure he'd say to "chew your food".

8. P.J.E. Peebles

So, I had to have an astronomer in there (although I think he calls himself a theoretical physicist - fair play, he's done it all). Jim Peebles is the nicest guy you might ever wish to meet. Humble as pie, sharp as a razor, I treasure the half-hour chat that Nic Ross and I enjoyed with him in Durham Castle as the highlight of my scientific enlightenment. I think he'd quietly steal the show at the party, guiding everyone's attention to the ultimate question mankind currently faces: "what -is- lambda?" I'd give my right arm to work for him.

So - that's far more people than can fit in my kitchen, so I'd better stop there. I'm eager to know who everyone else would have round for tea, and what people think of my choices. Do tell!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Trees are ruining my life.

Not the kind you find in arboretums (arboretae?) mind, I'm talking about the kind of tree you'd use to compute a potential via hierarchical multipole expansion. Sadly it's much harder to write the code than say hierarchical multipole expansion, which gives you a flavour of why I'm so miserable right now (in addition to the usual complaints).

So, I'm looking for any excuse to sack off work - here's a great one. Stotty just reminded me about Jane Seymour in "Live and Let Die" [here]. Well, I'm a big fan of the lovely Jane, so here's a picture of her looking rather tasty:

I wonder if she fancies becoming the official mascot of OC320?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

More skullbloggery

In a shameless attempt to reignite interest in Dalsim, which has necessarily fallen off the radar recently - Craig and I are finishing papers, Jim has been writing telescope proposals - I have moved the lifeless excerpts from my Dalsim pictorial history webpage guessed it, a BLOG! Check it out [here].

Don't expect the daily deluge that iccmofos, astroshack and room311 currently provide, just an occasional update on code progress, and news of forthcoming sponsorship deals ;-). For added geekiness, I've got an RSS feed (God I love RSS) on there. So if Natalie sends us that photo, you'll know right away!