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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

2 average days in israel

Yesterday the israeli civil defense force tested its own preparedness with three simulated attacks: a rocket attack against the aiport, a suicide bombing at a school and chemical attack on a power plant. At 2pm there were nationwide sirens. Despite knowing that they were coming, hearing the wailing of alarms was enough to make me want to leave the string theory lecture I was in and duck into a bunker. Earlier in the day a suspected suicide bomber was caught en-route north of Tel Aviv.

Today at 9am, negotiations between the Histadrut (Workers union) and the government regarding the wages of 3700 civil servants failed, resulting in a general strike being called. Ministries, local authorities, municipalities, religious councils, banks, the post office and public instituitions are closed. Trains, airports, and seaports are also shut. Kindergartens and libraries are closed while border guards, firemen and elctrical and water services are all operating in a limited capacity. The worst bit is that the bank of israel is also on strike which means there will be no cash distribution and ATMs will not be filled! The strike is open ended.

"However, union leaders decided to make one exception to the strike - airport workers will be back on duty on Thursday evening for a single incoming flight - carrying the England football team. They are due to play Israel in a Euro 2008 qualifying match on Saturday."

Monday, March 19, 2007

No being in Ivrit

After weeks of being confounded with the simplicity of hebrew grammar, I am starting to embrace it. I say confounded because my german-italian-english sensibillity can be hard to change. For example, there is no verb for to be in Hebrew. I find this lack of the most basic verb slightly puzzling (how is Heiddiger translated? what about DesCartes "I Think Therefore I Am"?). Added to the notable absence of the words am, are, is, be, been, being is the lack of the indirect article "a" (the word "the" does exist). An example using "aba" and "ima" (father and mother) will elucidate the confusion caused:

"Daniel is a father" is translated as "Daniel aba" (direct translation: "Daniel Father")
"Nina is a mother" is translated as "Nina ima" (direct translation: "Nina Mother")

which means (I think)
"Nina and Daniel are a mother and a father" is "Nina ve Daniel ima ve aba". (direct translation: "Nina and Daniel mother and father).
The wierdest feature of the lack of the verb to be is that one cannot construct a sentence which means precisely: "I am".

Another thing thats simply bizarre about hebrew is that the lack of vowels means that two consonants next to eachother may be a word. For example: GG (pronounced "gag", means roof), DD (pronounced "dod", means loved one), or DG (pronounced "dag", means fish). All this is to show the simplicity of a five thousand year old language. Who needs the imperfect past third person passive indirect article? It does make it hard to construct a sentence based on enlgish formulations.

Monday, March 12, 2007


15 minutes befor Ulpan started C showed up with a bag of freshly picked almonds and a copy of the Palestine Times. Phew. Not having been kidnapped, blown up, arrested, detained or in any way harmed I was of course, relieved.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Two Worlds seperated by 13km

Today I am scared. Its not the ubiqutous post-modern angst Im talking about but a real fear for C. She has a meeting with a contact who works for the development branch of the german government in Rammallah - the defacto "capital" of the Palestinian territories. I say defacto because it is not the de jure capital. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas lives there in a compound known as "The Mukataa" (arabic: "something seperated"); the palestinian legislative council (parliament) is in Gaza while (one of the) the stumbling blocks of all peace negotiations to date has been the desire of the palestinains to have the capial of a future state in Jerusalem. So what can go wrong? Everything. From internal fatah-hamas fighting to IDF raids and checkpoint closures. Although only 13 km from Jerusalem, its a world away from the modern, rich, introspective state we live in. Israelis are barred by law from entering. All western governments discourage their citizens from entering the palestinian territories ("defer all travel to the west bank" is a comman blip on embassy websites). All western embassy travel advisories say the same thing which boils down to "if you go and something happens, we cant/wont do anything". Well, at least the europeans who have been kidnapped in the past few months have all been released within a few hours and without being harmed. In the mean time I feel like a communications centre with my web browser opened to every possible palestinian and israeli news site, scouring them for updates on the security situation in Ramallah while at the same time anxiously staring at my phone awaiting text message updates on her whereabouts. Im holding my breath until ulpan tonight.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

by far the most interesting coffee break ever

Today, like most other days, I satiated my need for caffiene with a 1 o'clock latte. Sitting on the grassy null outside my office, me and my office mate were struck by a huge cloud circle in the sky, so big (high in the sky) that its entirety was not within one field of view. This (complete) ring was interstected by a rainbow arc whose curvature seemed to match that of the cloud circle. But the rainbow arc wasnt a full circle. To make matters more complicated, where the rainbow intersected the cloud circle the rainbow was distorted and rotated. After staring at this phenomenon for the length of time it takes to drink a latte (by which time it dissapeared) and ascribing its cause to everything from aliens to stratospheric events, we noticed high high up in the sky a little white dot (UFO? baloon? satellite?) travelling through the circle. What in sciences name was this? All suggestions welcome.

Afterwards me and my office mate worked out why cmbs "Measure Pi with a Pencil" works. Yay us.

Update: explanation of aformentioned mentioned natural phenomenon can be found here and a picture of aforementioned natural phenomenon can be seen here , taken by some bloke in antarctica.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cup fever

The smell of glory is hanging around the ICC after today's historic, if inelegant, 5-a-side victory over Physics Rangers. The win puts the ICC's side, imaginatively titled "Astro", into the final of the annual knockout tournament. Whilst there was an air of confidence that, having gloriously sailed past tournament hopefuls Engineering, Physics Rangers would pose less of a threat, we made thoroughly hard work of it.

Norris, in the "Henrik Larsson" role (being on loan from local rivals Cosmic) put us ahead in style - latching onto a cross to slide home from short range. Rangers were back on level terms in short order though, after we were caught napping and hit on the break.

The side remained unchanged as we started the second half (Bielby - also on loan, Eke, Davies, Crain, Norris) and I saw possibly my finest goal of the season - a left foot volley from the halfway line going in off the post - disallowed as we'd already been awarded a free kick (much talk of "where's the advantage ref?"). Nonetheless, Greg soon put us ahead again, surging down the right flank and firing home skilfully after the ball bobbled up awkwardly.

Not learning from the earlier mistake, lapse defending soon allowed Rangers back into the game, against the run of play, as a gambled cross found an unmarked striker ready to tap into the open net. Fresh legs were introduced as the Marks swapped - Swinbank on for Norris - but still the game looked to be heading into extra time, as Astro's unfruitful onslaught on the Rangers net sapped any remaining energy. Cue fitness masochist Vince Eke to take full advantage, positioning himself perfectly to latch onto a threaded ball from Swinbank and guiding home from short range. Rangers had no time to respond and Astro took a narrowly deserved victory.

The final is set for this Friday against runaway league champions Earth Sciences. We'll need to pull out all the stops to win that one, especially without goal machine Raul. Still, if the loan deals on Bielby and Norris can be extended we might stand a chance.

Also satisfying was this year's league position, a respectable fourth behind Earth Sciences, Physical Rex and Engineering. Coming above the likes of ASAT, Chembridge Utd and - of course - Cosmic, is very satisfying.

Heat and noise

This is probably going to sound like a parody of my normal, miserable self, but there's another thing to be hacked off about. And it's to do with this lovely weather.

Don't get me wrong, it's glorious out there today - bright, sunny, the epitome of spring perhaps. But in here, it's getting a wee bit warm. As I type, I'm very comfortable on my own in my Ivory Tower. But by midday there'll be four of us in here, and the temperature will sky rocket. Our only recourse is to open the window, and there's the problem. Look what we have outside:

The mechanical workshop. I'm sure those 'real scientists' can't live without the sprockets and doodahs that these guys make (joking apart, I'm sure they do a sterling service) but you just can't think with all the noise coming from that place. Couple that with the noise from the two new developments undergoing construction on the science site, and you find opening the window just ain't an option.

On the bright side, I'm not on the bright side. That is, I have a north facing window here in the ICC. The poor buggers on the south side of the astroshack must have a nightmare with the sun streaming in all day. Gents, you have my sympathy.

Monday, March 05, 2007


This past weekend saw the festive celebrations of the holiday Purim. Like many jewish holidays, we celebrated the fact that some genocidal maniac tried unsuccessfully to murder us. In this instance the genocidal maniac wasnt pharoah, or nebuchadnezzar, but the agagite (persian) vizier Haman. Queen Esther - herself a jew - apeals to her husband King Ahasherous to stop the liquidation of all the jews in the persian dominion which he does - along with hanging Haman (and his 10 children). The Talmud commands (I kid you not) "that you should drink alcohol until you dont know the difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordechai (Ester's father)". As you may expect this is a religious edict I can abide (and imbibe) by. The holiday is celebrated by the entire country getting into costumes and drinking like the Northern English. Its a cross between holloween, guy fawkes day and Fasching plus alot of drinking. Sponataneous street parties are thrown with live bands, illegal house parties charge admission, and all bars are open especially late for punters to practice their religion and get trollied. I was a chinese man and C a geisha. The weekend was great not least because there were ample parties all over the city and a great celebratory vibe.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The return of F1

The F1 season kicks off a fortnight today. I've loved F1 since before I can remember, which is slightly odd as I have little more than a passing interest in other forms of racing - perhaps MotoGP is a fairly close second thanks to the hilarious danger.

Sadly the last few years have seen F1 become a load of rubbish thanks to a number of reasons, such as:
- the total dominance of the Schumacher / Brawn / Ferrari axis (last season aside)
- silly qualifying procedures
- constant rule fiddling that inevitably affects the poorer teams.
- a lack of competitive Brits, in spite of many teams being based in the UK.

It's sad to see the decay or demise of independent constructors like Williams, Jordan, Sauber, Arrows and Minardi, who simply can't afford to keep up anymore. It's amazing that they remained (in some cases) competitive as long as they did, given the level of sophistication involved in the sport.

However, on the plus side, I think this year might get me excited again. Firsly, Schumacher has buggered off. Yay. Ok, he was an awesome sportsman but ultimately an arrogant buffoon too prone to foul play (remember the collision with Damon Hill in Adelaide, 1994?). Secondly, McLaren - my team of choice - have snared the services world champion Fernando Alonso and supposed world champion in the making, the British Lewis Hamilton. Given that McLaren didn't win a race last year, this is an exciting gamble for Alonso.

Thirdly, McLaren's former superkid Kimi Raikkonnen has transferred to rivals Ferrari and is commonly tipped to fail in his bid to become the new Schumacher because he's solely interested in racing, and not working closely with engineers. Fourthly, champions Renault, who are likely to have the best car out there, are without a driver who is deemed capable of taking the title. And finally, all the teams are now using the same tires, which makes it a bit more of a level playing field.

I'm looking forward to the first race!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Noam's missed opportunity!

A while back I scoffed at Noam's get-rich-quick scheme, in which he planned to tap the energy expended by gym-fanatics as they exercise and feed it into the National Grid.

It seems I may have been hasty (shades of the time I mocked Nozbo for the now infamous "Romans raped women with giraffes" claim), since Slashdot are reporting that a gym in Hong Kong has gone ahead and implemented the plan.

Still, I'm not gobbling down my humble pie quite yet: the best the gym has managed so far is a paltry 300 watts. That's about 30% of what a modern desktop workstation sucks from the grid. It seems these recyclo-gyms aren't quite the alternative to nuclear power one might have hoped.