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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

More images of Eretz

My parents, sister and sister's friend arived in Israel for a long weekend. As my parents were busy meeting people I was assigned to tourist guide detail. It was fun. We started by going to the old city where we saw this guy carrying a stone slab on his head. Its things like that which remind me that I live in a 3rd world country. Of course we saw the 1300 year old mosque (atop the "temple mount" or "noble sanctuary" or "Mount Morriah" or "Zion" or - my personal favortie name made popular by Jules in Pulp Fiction - the "Holy of Holies"). After we left the mosque we went to the wailing wall and I spotted a white dove nestled in the cracks. These stones are from the time of Solomon which means they are around 2500 years old. A short walk from these two sites is the church of the holy sepulchre which houses "golgotha" - a stone where it is believed both Adam died and where Jesus was both crucified and ressurected. Outside the church we met two ethiopian Copts (you can see them in the fore ground above). I started speaking to them about their church and found out that this man was the patriarch of the ethiopian christian community (which numbers about 3000). Inside the church, we found Chrusader graffitti. ... and a beautiful 1500 year old mosiac of Jesus. The place was full of monks praying and had an eerily silent feel to it. We left Jerusalem and went to the dead sea - the lowest place on earth - whose surface area is evaporating at the rate of 1 sq m per day. The coastal recssion is starkingly obvious. The next morning we headed to masada, a mountain fort which served as the last stand of the jewish rebels in 70 C.E. The victory by the romans ushered in 2000 years of diaspora. The view of the mountains (whose peaks are still below sea level) and lake was breathtaking. I saw a pretty desert bird and of course some archeological remains of the fort, although I suspect this amphora is a fake. Judging by their attire, I believe my sister and her freind enjoyed their time in the middle east!!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Duke of Wellington

I'm a real fan of Craig's photorecipe series. Since Craig rarely cooks meaty meals I thought I'd have a go at filling in the carnivorous gap. To celebrate Jim1's return to Blighty, I invited him round for a meal. After months of salivating at the memory of the beef wellington that Gordon Ramsay cooked on the F-Word, I decided to have a go. Here's what I did:

Step 1: Roughtly chop 400g of Portobello flat mushrooms. Beware: these cost an arm and a leg at Waitrose!

Step 2: Puree the mushrooms in a blender or food processor.

Step 3: Spread the puree into a hot(ish) pan, in order to remove the moisture. Be careful not to burn them!

Step 4: Season about 500g of beef fillet. Beware: this costs an arm and a leg anywhere! I went with a simple salt and ground black pepper seasoning.

Step 5: Quickly fry the fillet in a little hot oil, to seal in the juices.

Step 6: We'll need some mustard shortly - get a handy sous-chef (Jim1 will do nicely) to mix up some English mustard powder.

Step 7: Lay out some cling film, then make a bed of parma ham (or prosciutto if you prefer), with each slice slightly overlaying the last. Then evenly spread the mushroom mixture over it. Make sure there's no excess moisture left!

Step 8: Spread the mustard over the fillet and then - here's the tough bit - place it on the bed and, using the cling film to help, roll it up. You want to roll it as tight as you can. I confess that this bit didn't go as well as I'd hoped, and in my anguish I forgot to take a photo. Whack the parcel into the fridge to firm up while you go onto the next step.

Step 9: Roll out some puff pastry. If you're a talented cook you can make your own, but being lazy and inexperienced, I went for the Jus-Rol option. Tastes great anyway. Don't forget to throw down some flour!

Step 10: Remove the cling film from the meat and, once again, roll it into as tight a parcel as you can. At this point, I egg washed it and returned it to the fridge. Jim1 thinks now that it might be better to leave the egg washing until you're about to cook it. Anyway - stick it into the fridge for about an hour.

Step 11: You now have some time to kill. Whenever the lovely ladies from French Maid TV have to wait they usually have pillow fights or chase each other with feather dusters. Jim1 and I weren't keen on this idea, so went off to the pub for a pint instead.

Step 12: Upon your return, you might want to consider making some veg, or ideally, have your other half sort it while you're at the pub. Kat made us some fanned garlic new potatos, with carrots and broccoli. Throw the wellington and the potatos in the oven for about 30mins. Why not open a nice bottle of Chilean red at this point?

Step 13: And there's the fruits of your labour. I'm sure you can make a more aesthetically pleasing parcel than I, but boy it tastes good, if I do say so myself. Leave for 10 mins before carving - get your veg steamed while you wait!

Step 14: Eschew dessert; I think a little French bread, Camembert and Beaujolais nouveau set the lot off nicely. If you're an alcoholic, you could have some port too.

I was pretty happy with that!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My New guiding principle

“Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.” (Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, 1977)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Novel decorating method: the C-bomb

I was visited this weekend by my Dad, a rare and enjoyable change from usual ssh-related skullduggery of my weekends. We discovered the joy of midday drinking, visiting both the Market Tavern ( unusual) and the Shakespeare (first time in ages), and thanks to Lydia, I also got to show him the supercomputers. Sounds geeky but it's easy to take for granted how physically awesome the machines are when your usual contact with them is via a command prompt.

As you can see, Dad also enjoyed a slightly less advanced computational experience by playing Street Fighter II on the Super Nintendo. How he must have endured countless hours of "hadouken" coming from the telly during my childhood. Sadly it seems that Vega has got the better of him here.

We also got to see the utterly freakish "warm-up act" for the z-list celebrity guests who came to turn on the Christmas lights. I was actually quite scared by this wacky show. Scarier still though, was what happened later; after I enjoyed an espresso at Pizza Express, Dad fancied one, so once back home I began making him one with one of those espresso makers that you put on the hob. I then made the mistake of nipping upstairs and, naturally, forgot all about the coffee.

Ten minutes later, there was a detonation in the kitchen. Dad and I rushed down to see what had happened. Before I even reached the kitchen, I found this in the lounge:

Whilst concerned that somehow coffee had travelled from the cooker to the lounge, I wasn't prepared for the devastation in the kitchen:

It instantly reminded me of that horrific scene in Trainspotting where Spud ends up flinging poo over his girlfriend's lounge, although in this case the smell was actually very nice. Poor Dad felt a bit guilty, having asked for a coffee:

but it was bloody hilarious at the time. So - if ever you want coffee coloured walls, that's the way to go. Great coffee house aroma into the bargain.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Return, Episode II

I have just finalized my plans for return to the UK. For all those interested I will be gracing you with my presence from the 8th - 16th of December. I intend to catch up on time lost at Chase, Jimmy's, pub quizes (either at howlands or the Jug), whiskey that doesnt cost 20quid a shot, bacon baps, coffee manage-trois with glenda pat and lynne, and of course my mates at ye olde Physics deptartment.

One of the nice things about having a new email address is the lack of spam. However there is something confidence building about opening up your inbox to 57 emails, even if 56 of them are for viagra and 1 of them is from Lowry McComb.

If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man.

This is probably the single most awesome event for 13.7 billion years. My nephew, George (9), like most boys of his age, plays football for a local junior team. I've just about forgiven him for his choice - he plays for Greenbank FC, who were the arch-rivals of my own junior team, Glebe Park Eagles, when I was a wee lad.

It was just happens that George's coach knows Lemmy. Yes, *the* Lemmy. From Motorhead. The greatest metal band in history. A quick phone call to Lemmy has landed the team sponsorship from Motorhead, including a very-metal black kit (complete with skulls on) and a benefit gig at Nottingham's Rock City this Saturday. The kids are all invited to the gig, to hang back-stage with Lemmy et al., and are now running onto the pitch to the Ace of Spades (a bit more hardcore than Newcastle's 'Local Hero').

The whole affair has made it onto local news [clicky] and Mark Swinbank tells me they've just had a mention on Radio 2. Hopefully Stotty and Geach (if Jim's listening) can get me more Radio 2 banter later on!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rain and cats

Today jerusalem woke up to the coldest day so far this winter. And I dont use the word 'cold' here relatively. While it was certainly far from freezing (I think it was about 11 C), this part of the world is not used to such dramtic firgidity. Also, the arid climate looks strange in the rain. A wet cactus? While it did not pour, there was a heavy mist in the air that nestled itself in the valleys of the city. An interesting topographical attribute of Jerusalem is that its a city perched on hilltops. Every neighbourhood is at the summit of one of these hills and to go from A to B inevitably involves dipping into the valleys. Most of these mini-valleys arent very densely inhabited and tend to be designated as city parks. Jerusalemites are total strangers to this climate and well underprepared. When it starst to drizzle people run for cover. The brolly is a rare item. People shiver, roofs leak, cats get upset. The number of cats on campus is also a slightly bizarre. It seems to me that the Hebrew Univeristy doubles as a cat sanctuary. Perhaps they fullfill some darwinian niche (better cats than mice!) but the sity of a hundreds of scavenging kittens - not to mention pregnant cats - is slightly unsettling especially when im trying to eat my lunch in peace, without the desire to be overcome with guilt for not feeding the kitten meowing at my feet.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A well oiled machine

One of the big life changes I've tried to implement recently is to just get more stuff done while I'm at work. I think most of the astronomy gang would confess that there's a lot of, if not buggering about, at least a lot of "peripheral discussion" and procrastination.

And so I find myself into my third year with lots of ideas in my head - I think my first two years have given me a fairly solid, if not stellar, grounding in my craft. I have many of my own ideas, which I think is really the key to staying afloat in this game, but alas - I'm worried that I'll never have the time to get them done. After all, I need to get some low-risk work out of the door for a guaranteed scientific return, and then write a thesis.

My solution has been to look into one of the latest fads on the internet: the philosophy of "Getting Things Done" (GTD for short). GTD is a huge subject, so I'll save a big discussion of this and just give a brief mention to 43Folders, an excellent blog+podcast series that looks at ways to implement your own GTD system, which can be as simple as making a list of things you need to do, or as mental as developing "ubiquitous capture" procedures for ensuring your brain never misses a trick. Supposedly.

My own "GTD system", if it could be called that is basically a hierarchical list built with OmniOutliner, a *sweet* piece of software that came with my new Mac (kudos to Apple, again), and my trusty Moleskine reporter's pad which now travels with me nearly everywhere. However, I think I've found the ultimate anti-procrastination weapon for the theoretical astronomer. And it's free, and utterly non-complex. My girlfriend made it for me, and it's going to sit on my desk at work [click to see it].

Sunday, November 12, 2006

images of life in Eretz

Welcome to the Holy land

Security outside my university campus

Hebrew University students

A Zionist

A street in the Old city

A Jerusalem street

A jerusalem restaurant on a Jerusalem street

Ancient greek monastery (5 C.E.)

Chalva at the Shuk


People at Pride

Military Poster

Napoleonic cannons in Jaffo (Tel Aviv in the background)

Arab House in Jaffo

Bauhaus in Tel Aviv

Sunset over the med