I spent Tuesday preparing for my trip. I bought a very large amount of travelers’ cheques with which to open up an account in cambridge. I packed intermittently, whenever an item appeared that I had forgotten to pack. Everything was going very smoothly. I was washing a pair of shorts I wanted to bring when I started looking for my wallet. I couldn’t find it, and eventually I realized it was in the washing machine, at which point my heart sank.
My passport was in that wallet.
I dried out the contents of the wallet as best I could, spreading them out on wax paper and pointing a hair dryer at them, putting one card that seemed like it would survive into the microwave. The passport was very soggy. It was still wet when I had to take it through the airport, and even going through customs in England this morning. I got a lot of strange looks, and a recommendation that I replace the passport before trying to use it to enter the U.S.
On the plus side, I did get to execute an experiment I’d been wanting to do for a long time: take a barometer on board an airplane. I’m sure I could look up the pressure drop, but I was interested to measure it myself. However, most barometers (or at least the heirloom hanging on my wall at home) are too big. So I arrived at the airport barometerless. After some thought, I bought a pack of trident gum and a bottle of water, plus a clear straw. I had a pen on me. As soon as I was in my seat, I started chewing a stick of gum and opening the bottle of water. I dipped the straw about halfway into the water, then stuck the gum on top to seal it. The seal was excellent. I marked the spot on the straw with the pen. Then I waited, holding a complimentary newspaper over my contraption so as to hide it from any terrorism-aware cabin attendants. (I let my seat-neighbor in on the whole thing.) Then, at what appeared to be cruising altitude, I made another mark where the water was.
Result: The air column had expanded about 25%, corresponding to a cabin pressure of 0.8 atmospheres, assuming no temperatures effects (to which this design is quite vulnerable). It was easy and fun. If you have a boring plane flight coming up, you should distrust my results and do it yourself. Heck, do it twice, once on the way up and once on the way down, to see if there’s drift due to leakage or evaporation.
When I got to England I had to navigate a complex 3D maze to find the rest of the Cambridge group, which shortly went out to our bus. Unfortunately, it turned out that the bus did not have enough cargo space for 37 people-years-worth of stuff, so a second van had to be called, which meant that we stood around outside the Heathrow terminal for 2 hours before getting on the bus. The bus drove almost directly to Fitzwilliam college, where I was dropped off. I went to the Porter’s Lodge, where a porter handed me a key and an ID, and directed me to my room.
My room is essentially unremarkable, except that it contains a full bathroom crammed into a space less than half the size of the miniscule Simmons Hall bathroom. No, I am not exaggerating. This is accomplished by placing a showerhead directly over the sink and mirror. I will determine shortly if it is functional or not.
There’s not much else to report, at least not in words. The college is beautiful, or at least very well kept. It seems large enough but not huge. It is just right.