A rather different week.

This time last week I knew that the week ahead might look a bit different than I am used to, but I didn’t realise it would end up with me being interviewed in the Times and on Radio 4 and being broadcast on German radio too.

We published a scientific paper that’s been in the making for the last 5 years or so. It got rather a lot of attention, on social media, on the media proper and in real life. People wanted to know what was going on with 300 year old letters and how we had read them without opening them, and more importantly what did they say?

The general gist of the letter’s contents is that Jacques Sennacques wanted his cousin Pierre La Pers to provide a copy of the death certificate of Daniel Le Pers. Unfortunately, we don’t know who Daniel Le Pers was, but we do know that Jacques needed a copy of his death certificate for financial and legal reasons probably related to the changes in French inheritance laws that were coming into play.

Unfortunately for Jacques, the letter was never delivered. It most probably ended up in the Hague as misdirected post, and it sat unopened and unread in a small wooden chest until we came along and used x-ray techniques and software to virtually open it.


Lockdown 3, Week 1

I didn’t document lockdown two, as it really didn’t seem to change things much. Work happened as normal, my cycling dropped off somewhat due to the weather and other issues, and I started using the tube again to get to the lab. The District Line heading west was mostly empty unless you hit particular times; even at its most busy, it was nowhere near pre-pandemic usage. Masks seemed to be in use by most people, often just skimming or sitting below the nose. Those determined to make a point of not wearing a mask were as blatant about it as possible. Groups of teenage males seemed to be the most likely to ignore mask and social distancing requirements.

Monday 4th January 2021
First day back at work. Walked from home to Stratford (9 miles or so) then caught the bus to Mile End. An easy enough walk, but not one I’m likely to do too frequently. I followed the usual route I’d cycle.
The day was mostly meetings about teaching and getting things up and running the in the lab. Rumours we may be about to go into Lockdown 3 started at lunchtime, two of the PhD students expressed concerns about how this would impact experiments and their progression. Unfortunately, it’s all up in the air.
I left early enough to get and empty train home.
We’re in Lockdown 3, but don’t call it that. No word from the university regarding the lockdown, I’m going to assume it’s a repeat of Lockdown 1 until told otherwise.

 Tuesday 5th January 2021
Cycled to work. The bike needs some attention, still making some odd noises.
Still so word from the university, I shut down the lab again and head home.

Wednesday 6th January 2021
Woking from home today, it’s online student induction all day; I may as well do this from the comfort of home with all the Tea I can drink on hand.
Before the induction kicks off, I receive an email from the university that boils down to “Business as usual”. I find out from a follow up email that I’m an

Induction goes well, it’s a good group of students this year. It’s a shame we may never meet any of them face to face.
I spend the evening watching a bunch of cunts attack the US Capitol. I miss the final eviction of the terrorists because I’m asleep.

 Thursday 7th January 2021
Again working from home. Pretty sure I was supposed to be attending a virtual conference today, I got the day wrong – it’s tomorrow. Spent the later afternoon – evening adding new data to the conference presentation, and generally catching up with a colleague over zoom.

Friday 8th January 2021
Awoke to a hard frost, which had just started to clear when we got an unexpected flurry of snow. The snow laid for an hour or so on the still frosty patches, but melted almost instantly everywhere else. The dog does not like snow.
The actual conference day. Again, working from home. Fixed a few snags in the conference presentation, then had the first tutorial session with my tutor class.
Presentation went well, we should turn the results into a journal article soon. Attended a colleague’s professorial inaugural lecture on zoom, congratulations to them.

Saturday 9th January 2021
Took the dog to the park, much muddier than I expected. I took a few photographs, mostly of trees, these were the best ones:

A frozen spiderweb on an interesting tree at the park
A frozen spiderweb on an interesting tree at the park
This tree was almost perfectly monochrome against the grey sky, it only took a little bit of desaturation to bring it out.

A clear night is predicted, so I set up the telescope for the first time this year, aiming to try out NINA for control and imaging instead of APT that I usually use.
Lit the woodstove in the shed to keep warm while I worked. I thought I’d use some smokeless cure I picked up last year. Useless bloody stuff, it took forever to light and burned so slowly the shed never got above 8 Celsius.
Neighbours had a house party in defiance (or ignorance) of tier 4 restrictions.
I managed to get an hour of imaging on the andromeda galaxy and had started to get to grips with NINA when all the imaging went to crap. Upon inspection, the heater band on the telescope objective was not able to deal with the extra cold snap we had and the lens started to fog over. I packed away, and will need to improve the heater before next time.

Sunday 10th January 2021
Walked to the shops to but some supplies for the week. Ended up buying two bags of compressed sawdust logs for the woodstove, I’ve used these before and they throw out loads of heat. Getting the shed up to 25 celcius when it’s freezing outside is not unusual.


Well, that didn’t go as planned.

One trip out of the country, to Iceland in January, followed by lockdown travel restrictions and an opportunistic infection trying to eat my right arm off at the elbow.

The enforced home-staying did mean I got to do a lost more astronomy than I otherwise would have, but this was curtailed towards the end of the year by the bloody awful weather. Clear nights were few and far between and tended to coincide with total exhaustion on my part.

Back in 2004, when I installed wordpress as a stop-gap until I finished writing my own CMS, I asked myself the question:

Well, to answer myself, I still seem to be writing here, however sporadically. This year did see a more frequent run of posts, mostly because I decided to try to document the first lockdown and also because I had astronomy photos to post.

2021 will be the year I document things more, here and elsewhere. Lets see if I keep to that. Hello Me of the year 2036 if you’re looking back and writing a retrospective post.

Considering Phlebas

Turning the wheel and looking to windward
Turning the wheel and looking to windward

I went sailing for the first time in 30-something years. Many thanks to Alan for hosting me and trusting me with the wheel of his pride and joy. From Thorpe le Soken to Felixstowe and back again.

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Quarantine – Week seventeen (Holiday week 1) + eighteen (Holiday week 2) + nineteen (Holiday week 3)

Oh, yeah. Writing.

I spent the first three days of week 17 (holiday week 1) virtually present at the Bone Research Society meeting. I had a couple of other meetings that week too. So much for being on holiday. The dog did get plenty of walks and treats and will probably miss me greatly when I do return to work.

Holiday week two was much more of a holiday (from work, at least). No meetings attended, no emails replied to. I should do this more often. I explored Valence Park with the dog and found he is well behaved off the lead and quite happy to come when called and generally tear around the grass like a mad thing. It goes without saying that I only do this when there is no one else around or no other dogs close by.

On Saturday of week two, I cycled from home to Regent’s Park via the London Library to meet with some friends for a socially distanced picnic. Cycle route provision in London is so much better than I remember from 15-20 years ago. After a few hours in the park, my legs were cramping up on the cycle north. The bike is now awaiting the attention of a service engineer before I start using for my regular commute.

I did a bit of comet chasing this week, including taking my camera and tripod over to the park at 11pm for a darker sky and a better view North. I was undisturbed aside from a couple of mosquitoes, and a tiny blue light in the grass that turned out to be a dog being walked at distance.

A single 5s exposure of comet neowise

Holiday week three has flown by, more dog walking and one evening’s astrophotography.

The Ring Nebula and surrounding stars

The sky conditions look poor for the next week or so, so that’s probably the last imaging I’ll get to do before I return to work. Fingers crossed to hear more from the job application in progress.