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.

Clubbing!

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.

Interesting…

I seem to have found the Jews, or at least some of them. One of them is in Physics with me, and has informed about a Jewish society here and such.

Interesting and a little unexpected. I will have to go. It sounds like fun in its mildest and most harmless form.

Still no bank account. I’m working on it. I’ll write down the story once it’s finished.

Unconnected

A few more people have arrived. The college still seems pretty dull. Hopefully it will get more interesting soon; I’m getting exceedingly bored.
Part of the bored mood should probably be blamed on the dull information session for international students this morning. At least I got some useful information out of the meeting with the Physics department CME liaison.

Most of the blame lies on my still not having an internet connection in my room. This is driving me crazy. I am walking to and from the college’s student computer room constantly. The banking situation is also terrible, but that’s another story.

People!

More students seem to have arrived. I met two third-years in Science and Engineering today, which was nice. I’ve started eating meals at the college cafeteria, which is convenient since I still have 0 pounds, awaiting the creation of a bank account, which is awaiting the Fitz freshers fair on Sunday where bank advice will be given. In the mean time, I’m running up debt on my Fitzcard of which I can have up to 200 pounds. Lunch tomorrow will be free, provided by CMI, and I expect to eat breakfast and dinner here. Saturday lunch will be trickier.

-Ben

The shower works

The shower works well. Surprisingly, there is enough room to shower without great difficulty. Conveniently, the water temperature is easily controlled over a wide range, and there’s plenty of pressure. That’s a lot more than I could say for the Simmons showers. Other exchange students in different colleges have confirmed the superb water pressure.

It must be a British thing.

I went on a tour this evening. Conclusion: Cambridge is old.
-Ben

I’m in England!

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.

-Ben

Last Night in North America

Last night for a good long while anyway. I finished packing today, only to find that I’d packed all my belts, and it was going to be too troublesome to get them back out of my bag. So I’ll fly beltless. I’m taking two bags, the larger of which weighs 58 pounds, which sounds a lot lighter to me than it feels to lift it. Luckily, this was about the time when I was planning to get back in shape. Wonderful.

I’m taking antibiotics in my checked luggage, for reasons that I don’t entirely understand. I expect I’ll just throw them out. I wonder if there’s a safer way to dispose of antibiotics that doesn’t release them into the ecosystem.

The workmen came! They came late, and left early, but they seemed amiable enough in their gruff way, and declared that they would have tiles in the bathroom by the end of the week. I guess my parents will have to send me pictures. Except that I’m taking the digital camera…oh well.

I’m dragging vast quantities of shower supplies, mostly because we are members of Costco, where everything is available only in Vast and Extra Vast sizes. I can supply my floor with conditioner.

Not much to say, except that I’m feeling…anticipatory. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

See you in England.
-Ben

At Home

I think I must be excited to leave, because I accidentally left one of my friends an IM saying “tonight’s my last night in North America.” Which it isn’t. Tomorrow is my last night in North America. Tonight is nothing of great interest, except the night before the workmen who were supposed to be working on our bathroom for the past six weeks but instead refused to return our (i.e. my parents’) phone calls are actually coming back in. We’ll see.

Did I mention the saga of our bathroom? I should do that. Here it goes:
About two and a half years ago, we noticed a big nasty stain in the family room ceiling below the master bath. Since the house was shortly going to have exactly two people in it, my parents were in no real rush to get it fixed. They had been considering various sorts of renovations for a long time, and this seemed to be their chance. So the meditated on their choices for two years, and eventually came up with a plan. They would rip apart the master bath and the surrounding rooms and create a master suite, with a much larger, fancier bathroom and a lot of stuff. They called in workmen, who with great efficiency demolished the old master bath and began construction.

During the plumbing process, one of the workmen was standing on the floor joists putting in pipes when he lost his balance and put his foot through the ceiling of the room below, making an enormous hole that is directly over my head. A few minutes later, they tested the pipe running over the hole, which was not properly sealed, and poured water through the large hole in the ceiling the room below. Later that week, they failed to seal another pipe, which leaked onto the ceiling, creating more unsightly brownish stains.

Once the major plumbing was done it was time for tiling. After a process too complicated for me to describe, involving multiple returns and a growing friendship with the tile clerk at a nearby home improvement warehouse, the bathroom floor and wall tiles arrived, at which point the workmen vanished. After a few weeks my parents grew anxious and called them, only to get no response. Repeated calls either got no response or a promise to arrive by Tuesday, which inevitably failed to occur. Eventually, my mother devised a secret plan. She invited them to dinner.

Like all of my mother’s bizarre schemes, this worked perfectly. At least, they showed up to dinner. Tomorrow we’ll see if they show up for work.

New topic.
A lot of stuff has happened since I got back. It’s been Yom Kippur, which means lots of dressing up and going to temple (except the temple has way too many members for its building, so it appropriates the middle school auditorium) for services a couple of times, and eating tasty tasty food with friends, including one or two who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Then today, for no particular reason, we had a family reunion. There’ve been at least 40 friends and relatives through this house in the past two days.

I also had to complete my assignment for this inane CMI-CI-M seminar (don’t ask), one of the inane results of which you can see here.

Like information, but less informative