I’d mentioned my bathroom earlier. Well, I decided to try to learn something about connecting my camera to my computer (trivial) and all the stuff needed to make pictures work. Accordingly, I have added the following picture.
My Bathroom. Note that this picture has been labelled for the object-identifying-impaired.
In it, you can see that my showerhead is directly over my sink, which is separated from the toilet by a shower-curtain. If you look closely, you may also find the edge of a heated towel rack and an Extra Vast container of Costco-made “Kirkland” conditioner.

I think I’m sick

I’ve been doing a lot of coughing and such. I think I’ll be fine as long as I remember to drink lots of water and and keep warm.
I went to Staples (yes they have Staples here) to buy supplies. I got a planner, paper, and duct tape. I think getting a roll of duct tape is a critical step in the moving-in process.
I have discovered something bizarre: Staples in the UK doesn’t sell looseleaf paper. They also don’t seem to carry cheap supplies. I’m used to buying notebooks at CVS for 29 cents each, and getting 400 sheets of lined punched paper wrapped in plastic; here the only loose paper they sell is printer paper, and notebooks are all 4 pounds or more.

Crazy. I ended up compromising and getting a pack of memo pads.

Time to do some work, for the first time in a long time.

Bicycle and other resolutions

I have resolved all three of my outstanding dilemmas. Well, there are probably still some more outstanding dilemmas, but three have been resolved.
But first: I had my first lecture today. It was in statistical mechanics (and thermo), being tought by a professor who has great difficulty pronouncing the word ‘statistical’ and admitted such at the beginning of the lecture. The lecture came with incredibly detailed, perfectly LaTeXed notes that are deliberately, conveniently missing certain key equations which will be presented in class and which you are intended to write in. After class there was a brunch for the third-years, after which I checked my e-mail to find that I’d been assigned to “post a-level” spanish, which is taught to advanced first-year spanish majors and non-advanced second-year spanish majors. I’ll find out Monday whether the level is right. So that was good: HASS requirement, concentration requirement, everything set up to let me get my CI credit senior year and be finished.

I also picked up my bicycle (U-lock not susceptible to bic-attack included), which I rode to the bank, where my fourth attempt to open an account succeeded. So paying my term bill just became much more possible, as did making it to lecture on time.

Unfortunately, this bike seems to have an order of magnitude more grease on it than any other bike I’ve ever owned. Some of my pants (trousers) are stained around the cuffs, but the very nice pair of Eddie Bauer slacks I was wearing today (not having ‘done the washing’ yet here) had oil stains up to the pockets by the time I got back to the college. I rubbed them with plain old bar soap (I don’t have any detergent, and liquid laundry soap seems essentially nonexistent here) and let them soak in my bathroom sink. If anyone has good oil-stain-removal ideas, tell me. I still haven’t figured out how to avoid soiling another pair of trousers (pants) if I ride to lecture tomorrow.

Oh well. In other news, tonight was my matriculation dinner, which meant wearing my gown and having a many-coursed meal (requiring nine pieces of silverware per setting) with professors and the rest of the new students (and making a toast to the Queen, which consists of the following:
Everyone is called to attention with a gong.
Everyone is asked to stand by the Master of the college, who then says “We will now make a toast. The Queen.”
The standing diners raise their glasses and reply in unison monotone “The Queen.”
The diners sip whatever they’re holding, mostly local port in miniscule wine-glasses.
The diners sit back down.

Bicycles and other mayhem

So, I woke up this morning early to go find the registration meeting for the Physics third-years. First, I tried my new granola and el-cheapo milk, which tasted great even at room temperature. The milk tasted pretty bad alone, I think, but that may have been a momentary orange-juice-after-toothpaste sort of thing. I had to ‘borrow’ someone else’s bowl and spoon from the “gyp room” (kitchen), but today I bought my own. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this excited about, well, anything. I may well be more excited about this extraordinarily tasty granola (or “mueslix” as the English prefer) than I was about going to England in the first place, simply because it’s taken so much effort to make it real.

Then again, that may just be misattributed excitement from the fact that my first lecture is tomorrow. !!!. Maybe the excitement is spilling out like the corona around a Sun of apprehension about the real start of the new year. Anyway, my day.

I walked to the new Cavendish laboratory, a sprawling complex with so many locked gates that it’s essentially impossible to get where you’re going if you don’t know how, even if you know your destination, which I didn’t. My first attempt at entrance put me on the wrong side of the complex, next to what appeared to be a helpful sign that might even contain a map but was instead a board informing visitors about the Roman settlement that had been discovered when they started excavation (in the 1970’s, it would seem). Anyway, it took me about 15 minutes to find my way in, and that only with the help of a fellow Fitz physicist. The lecture, about the structure of the courses, was entirely uninteresting but given by the most engaging lecturer I can remember seeing, due in no small part to a great Scottish accent. (I think it’s Scottish, but I’m still a novice at accent-identification.)

After the lecture I had to choose my experiments, stop off at a public cluster to check my e-mail and find out where to meet people about bicycles and spanish (more on that later). I decided to try to exit the complex towards the center of town, my destination. This turned out to be a very poor idea, and after half a dozen passages through buildings and doublings-back I was eventually forced to go out exactly the way I came in. When I got to town, I made my first bicycle stop, for a bicycle that I had thought would cost 10 pounds. Instead, I was shown a beautifully refurbished ancient machine selling for 100. Ahh, the miscommunicative powers of e-mail.

From there I walked to Fenner’s cricket ground, where my second bicycle quarry lay. To get there I had to pass through Parkers Piece, a historic field (think perfectly manicured lawn) mostly because it is the only piece of grass in Cambridge on which students are allowed to walk. It is claimed that association football (i.e. soccer) was first played on Parkers Piece. I’m terrible at estimating sizes, but I think Parker’s Piece is very nearly square, with each edge as large as the longest edge of Brigg’s field. Maybe larger. In other words, huge. Getting to Fenner’s cricket ground was incredibly tricky, mostly because I walked around the entire field and peeked through the windows of all of its buildings before finding the one that wasn’t entirely empty. When I finally found the person selling this bicycle and took it out for a ride, I was taken aback. He’d said that the rear wheel was loose, but in fact, the pedals were badly bent and the forward gear-shift had snapped.

So I’ve decided to buy the first bicycle I looked at, if it’s still available.

Oh, I auditioned for FitzBarbershop group today. It was interesting: there are only 3 of them left out of the 8 in the group, and their auditions have absolutely no structure or planning at all. They made it up as they went along. They were very impressed by vocal percussion, but I don’t think I did the sight-reading very well. It seems like, due to a shortage of basses, I’m needed in the choir regardless.

Final note: I’m more excited than ever about I2P, the Invisible Internet Project, which aims to create a totally secure anonymous layer over the internet that itself looks like the internet. In other words, run any insecure protocol (e.g. e-mail) over I2P, and nobody, inside or outside the network, can match the receiver’s or the sender’s online identity to a real one (like an IP address). It’s already running, it’s incredibly scalable, it’s fast (delay of about 10 seconds, max) and it’s moving right along. The thing that’s gotten me really excited is that one of their subprojects could easily replace LiveJournal with a completely decentralized pseudonymous blog friendnet. Sweet.

Red Shift

Red Shift was described to me as a party in which the entire main building of Fitz is transformed into a nightclub. I took them at their word, but I was astonished to see what they’d actually done. They redecorated the entire enormous space, replacing the main dining hall with a huge futuristic incredibly loud discotecque. The speakers were individually above chest height, and there were six of them. I was taken aback when I saw them at dinner, I was impressed to see the 10-foot-high, 30-foot-long visualizer projection screen and half-dozen patterned strobes, and I was shocked to discover the resonances of my chest cavity when they turned on the bass.

Four other rooms had also been converted to dance floors, as well as two bars and a quieter ‘chill-out’ room. The Fitzwilliam Junior Members Association truly has a talent for party-throwing. Additionally, although I didn’t end up winning the rowing challenge, I have discovered a new kind of victory:

At home, whenever I danced on a dance floor people would laugh. They would clear out so as not to get injured and generally point and stare. Clumps of dancers always moved away when I tried to join in. Here, it is mostly more of the same. I caught one girl pointing at me and then when her friends couldn’t hear her (because the music was SO UNBELIEVABLY LOUD) mimicking me to try to point me out to her friends. They quickly left whichever room I was in. However, I have also gotten positive feedback. At the beginning of the night, one guy walked up and said “You’re the great dancer! I saw you at coco’s! What’s your name?” Another guy said the same later on. But the real kicker came at the end of the night, in the incredibly-fast-loud-live-DJed-rap room, when a couple came up to me and the girl said she had heard me saying my friend’s dad won the Nobel prize in the computer room. We kept dancing, and they both complimented me, until eventually the girl took out her digital camera and started taking pictures of me dancing. I’ll see if any came out, but I doubt it. When they left she called me a “legend.”

I figured I probably wasn’t going to beat that, so I left. The party’s still going on, but in 9 and a half hours I have to be at the physics complex (the new Cavendish laboratory) for registration. Good night.

Crazy day

I think I need a planner-book-thing. I’m having serious trouble keeping track of all the things I have to do.
This morning, I tried to open a bank account. No luck: despite having put my middle name on the bank-letter request form, the tutorial office still left it out. They also missed the ‘z’ at the end of my name and wrote it in afterwards, making the whole thing invalid anyway. In an attempt to salvage the trip into town, I went into Sainsbury’s (think Shaw’s) and bought some granola, milk, and soap (showering without soap has been rather unsatisfying thus far). I was amazed to see the huge price variations, between seemingly similar varieties of cereals and milk and between store-brand and name-brand. The difference between very differently priced items often seemed to be nothing more than the amount of effort put into the package graphic art. Interestingly, although virtually everything is more expensive here, milk seems to be cheaper. I got Parmalat-style milk for 33p/litre, less than half of the price of Parmalat in the US on sale. I was informed later that while the US pays farmers not to produce in order to raise market prices, the UK government pays them to produce, which presumably costs more in taxes but results in lower market prices (though the prices addiitonally appear to be government regulated so…got me).

Anyway, I went back to college for lunch, where I ran into a physics major who told me that we were having a college third-year-physics-majors get-together at 4:30, before heading out to see about a bicycle. Last night I sent a letter to every person who had posted about a bicycle on, and today I went to see about the first one. It was being offered by a very nice recent graduate working at Analysys, a very nearby firm that could be technology, investment, consulting, or just about anything else. I had bargained him down from 75 pounds to 50, but that still sounded like a lot to someone who got a usable brand new bicycle in the US for under $60 last year. I’ve got appointments tomorrow to see bicycles at 10 and 20 pounds, which sound a lot closer to right for a cheap student whose money is worthless here and who will only be around for a year (and won’t be able to resell it, since the buying season is October).

Anyway, I said thanks but no thanks as quickly as possible, because I had to get back to Fitz in time for a 2 PM meeting with my tutor, which was fun (he’s very nice, and an American) but not very useful at the moment, except that he suggested that I go talk to the tutorial office about getting another bank letter. Which I did.

I checked my e-mail, from which I learned:
1. Prof. Greytak thinks I should just take all the courses listed as standard in the (BRAND NEW!) physics curriculum here, and he’s prepared to give me a mountain (or at the very least, an unusually large molehill) of credit for it.
2. Mira’s dad won the Nobel Prize! Go Mira’s dad! (I said to the girl next to me in the computer room that my friend’s dad won the Nobel prize (possibly disingenuous, since I never got to know Mira really well, but Chorallaries are all friends, right?) and she said “Wow. You know you’re at Cambridge when…” which gave me some pause, seeing as I’m not really from Cambridge, exactly.)

Then I had my meeting with my Director of Studies (abbreviated DoS and pronounced DOS, causing minor confusion for me as a computer nerd). After that I went back into town (about a twenty minute trip each way) to meet with Bette Davis, the CME HASS coordinator person, a meeting I mostly spent bashing the HASS-D and CI-H requirements, and at which I was told who to meet and when tomorrow to take a placement exam for Spanish. I do hope I can take Spanish here, because otherwise I’m going to have some relatively serious problems at home, between CI, HASS-D, and the concentration requirement.

Notice that I missed the get-together with the other physics students. There really aren’t enough hours in the day.

Now to Dinner, and thence to RedShift, the huge Fitz party at the beginning of every year. More on that later.

Edward Scissorhands

I watched Edward Scissorhands again, which reminded me that I really didn’t understand any of it the first time, owing to the fact that I was considerably younger than the archetypically young+naive characters. It’s good to know what it’s actually about, finally.

See Edward Scissorhands.

Bank account

Aagh. Everything here moves so slowly. I’m amazed that anything ever happens.

In order to open a bank account I need a very specific letter from the tutorial office, which is apparently just a form letter, but they’re too busy with graduate student matriculation to write it up. I also need a subdomain and an IP address, so that I can have internet access in my room and put this site online. I have been without access since I got here. That information was supposed to arrive today. Instead, there’s a big sign outside the closed office of the network admin saying that we should get connected “sometime later this week.”

On the plus side, I did track down someone who’s willing to sell me a bicycle. It would be good to get that done as soon as possible. It turns out, sensibly enough, that cambridge has a newsgroup very much like reuse-sell, but with perhaps even more traffic.


I went to a club, ‘coco’, with the Fitz freshers and the freshers of all the hill colleges. Additionally, it seemed that all the upperclassmen I knew from Fitz were also there, and many others besides. I’m not sure exactly why everyone was there. First, I sat around with a bunch of fellows Fitz freshers and talked about movies and paintball and such, until people had had their first drink, at which point the talk (all the girls had left) turned to the girls in the room. Then we went upstairs in search of interesting things, to no avail. Every floor of the club had uncomfortably loud music. Eventually, after searching all the floors, I settled on the dance floor. I started dancing, and was immediately informed that I was the first fresher to start dancing, which was a little odd, seeing as I’m not really a fresher. There was virtually no one dancing. At one point, it was just me.

Anyway, I danced for a very long time, until a bouncer eventually showed up and starting telling people to get out of the middle of the dance floor. Oddly, he didn’t mention a thing to me, though I was dead center in the dance floor, but everyone else felt intimidated and left, so I did too. Except that there was really nothing else to do, seeing as conversation was essentially impossible over the music, particularly conversation with people with British accents that are hard enough to parse with no background noise at all. Eventually, I gave up and went back to the dance floor, where a similarly small number of people were dancing, and started back up. I kept going for a while, and watched as a girl walked up and said something to the DJ. Girls from the Fitz Junior Members Assocation (who organized this whole thing) had been doing this intermittently, but this time the music changed, slightly. It went from hard live house techno to hard live house techno mixing with rap that had made Top 40. Over the next ten minutes more people began showing up at the dance floor, which seemed like a good thing, until there were so many people that it was virtually impossible to dance. Eventually I gave up and walked out, at which point I ran into another CME student and her fresher friends from Trinity Hall, one of whom mentioned that she had cake in her room.

The choice was clear. I went back with them to her room and ate cake, then left when they decided to go to a party downstairs. It was getting late, and I intended to attempt to open a bank account tomorrow (although I’d already broken down and withdrawn some pounds from a nearby ‘cashpoint’).

I still do. Good night.

Freshers’ Fair

I went to the Freshers’ fair at Fitz and talked with the Barbershop people, who still didn’t know when auditions would be, and with the Rowing club. The club had an erg out, and were running a little competition: take a one-minute test, and the fastest time gets a free ticket to their cocktail cruise thing. I hopped on, on a whim, with the previous guy’s time looking insurmountable. Immediately, all of my rowing came back to me. After not training for 5 months, I exactly reproduced my one-minute test time from 8 months ago, making me, at least for the moment, the fastest competitor.

I staggered back to my room and spat something awfully dark into my sink. It looked very much like blood, and I went out to turn on the bathroom light and check. When I came back in I looked again. It was a deep dark brown, not red, like the color of an old shredded scab. Or more to the point, like the color of the brownie I’d eaten 5 minutes earlier at the music society’s table.

I felt silly.

Like information, but less informative