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A breath of fresh air

To say that it has been a busy few weeks would be a little bit of an understatement. I've been busy in both domestic and professional pursuits and am looking forward to a break. Unfortunately, with the way things have been going, it looks like I'll next get one in about, say, June. What follows won't be in any particular order. By the way, a note on when I write bilingual entries: when I do, I will write the Welsh first and the English second going paragraph for paragraph. I do this because the limiting factor is what I can say in Welsh, so I find it easier to start in Welsh and then translate, rather than the other way around.

First, on the home front. We've done most of the destructive we plan to do in our bedroom. The ceiling is gone, the wallpaper is just a memory (not necessarily a pleasant one) and the carpet not even. The wardrobe has been dismantled. Some of the floorboards have been lifted and tomorrow's job is to insulate under them. That and lots of the standard houseworking things which Bec tells me need doing at the frequency she insists we do them.

The time since I last wrote saw the two year anniversary of the happiest day of Bec's life. Like last year, Bec had to go to London for work. Unlike last year, I didn't have the time available to go with. Instead, I dropped her off at the station and picked her up a day later. That was the Tuesday and Wednesday.

On the Friday, Bec had to go to Wrexham for work. After work on Friday, I headed up to Shrewsbury, where we spent the night in a B&B. We also exchanged presents. This year, being our two year anniversary, we had agreed a £2 cap. It is a challenge finding something within small limits. I got her flower seeds and indoor plant fertiliser, while she got me a small cake and a book on core stability. I liked it, and she seemed to like her present.

Saturday, we explored the town in the morning, including visiting the abbey, before supporting a smoke-free pub with our custom for lunch and catching a train to Llanwrtyd. We were met at the station by one of the proprietors of the place we were staying. We had a walk through the surrounding area before watching The Game on TV in our room.

The Game was Wales vs England in the 6 nations rugby. Neither Bec nor I had ever watched a full game of rugby before, but we both enjoyed it. It had everything you could hope for: a close, exciting game, England losing, Wales winning (their only win in the 6 nations), England losing, England missing any chance of winning the tournament, oh and did I mention England losing?

We had a pleasant dinner at the hotel restaurant before calling it a night.

Sunday, despite the weather looking ominous, we ventured out on a 6 mile walk. We were lucky - it didn't rain. We weren't, however, as lucky as we could have been. It hailed and it snowed. It was a pleasant walk though, culminating in Welsh cakes at the Cambrian Woolen Mill. From there it was a short-ish hop home and back to normal life. The train was even on time!

In another of the weekends, we had a day of Welsh speaking. During lunch, we went to a nearby pub. The food was nice enough - this country's version of standard pub grub. After lunch, while we were paying at the bar, Bec was eavesdropping on a nearby conversation. She was taken aback to hear three men discussing their preference of lettuce variety. I saw this as nothing particularly unusual - I have a theory that, whenever men are talking and there are no women involved in the conversation, at some point the conversation will turn to food and/or cooking. Bec said she expected them to be talking cars or sports or girls or even politics. Point for discussion: do people agree with me?

Other stuff - we are preparing for Bec's (easy) Welsh exam and then our (harder) exam. Also, we are looking forward to Passover (more on that in a later post) - it will be the first time we have had the Seder by ourselves. It won't be quite the same without small children, but I'm sure we'll cope.

On the professional front, I will be giving a conference presentation at a rheology conference in Naples soon. I am looking forward to it - what I am presenting is actually quite a simple idea, but it presents a little paradigm shift and I don't quite know how it will be received. Also, the subject matter is sufficiently simple that it makes it easy to explain but hard to actually make a meaty talk. Oh well, we'll see how it goes.

To get to Naples from here, the easiest way is to fly Cardiff to Rome via Amsterdam and then train to Naples. As per the way the uni does these things, I found myself calling the university's preferred travel agents, who wanted to send me there via either Heathrow or Birmingham. Neither of these appeal - I see no reason not to go from Cardiff. So, after going through the hassle of finding the route myself, I then got them to requote on a sensible(ish) route. Then, with a bit of initiative, I found that if I put in the flights in multi-city rather than return, the price goes down from the £400 quoted to £300. Unfortunately, the procedure for actually managing to do this took so long that, while entering the credit card details for the flights I wanted, the last seat sold. So it ended up costing £400.

Also since I last wrote, we had a visitor from NEWI in Wrexham who is doing a lot of extensional rheology. I showed him around and showed him my extensional rheometer. We also had a chat about various rheology and related things before he gave a seminar for the department.

I reciprocated this last Tuesday, when I took the train up to Wrexham to give a seminar to his department. First the whine about the train. I need to catch 4 trains - 2 up, 2 back. 3 of them were late (I only caught my first connection because the connecting train wasn't as late as the first train). The 4th may have been late too (I think it was) except that the train I was on was sufficiently late that I well and truly missed it. To complete, the next train was also quite late. Not good enough.

Anyway, I got into Wrexham not too late and was given the choice between disgusting lunch on the refectory or he had a booking at a nice pub. Gee, let me think. So we had a nice lunch with one of his postdocs and a colleague from Liverpool. We then went back and he gave me a tour of his labs before I gave my presentation.

The actual presentation wasn't too bad. It will be better and there is room for improvement, but at least it gave me a feel for where some things need to be fixed and/or tightened. And I think the saying goes something like, "never work with children, animals or microsoft products." Yes, despite having checked the presentation on Bec's version of powerpoint, some things didn't come out on the version they had at NEWI. Why can't people just use an open standard? Besides, who wants to pay for these things when they are available for free?

Aside from working on my presentation, I've also refereed another paper. This one was unequivocal - even if they do everything I can think of to the work to improve it, it would still only make it as a technical note. I would rather read a paper "proving" a ruler and compass method for squaring the circle. It would probably have more scientific merit. The only merit the paper may potentially have is that it provides a floor below which I will probably never see any papers go. It was terrible.

I have also been working with a Masters student, who seems quite capable. I have showed him how to use the equipment and he should be able to do a decent project.

Another thing of interest: a couple of weeks back, I interviewed with Haemair for a six month position. I will be starting just after I get back from Naples and will be finishing in mid-October before coming back to what I am doing now. Haemair have a patent related to prosthetic lungs, and I will be working with them to help iron out some of the problems in making the product a reality. I hope to get some good experience and learn some new tricks. It should be fun, anyway.

If I don't get a chance before then, to all appropriate Chag Sameach (joyful festival) and have a happy Pesach (Passover). Similarly, happy Easter where applicable.

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