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Tuesday, April 30

so far so good part 2

I am posting this retrospectively - it's now Thursday afternoon. What follows is pasted from an email I sent to some people on Wednesday morning; at the time I hadn't set out to write any more in the email than I had posted here the night before, but I ended up writing a lot and only just managing to hit 'send' before my credit ran out on the PC I was using. I feel a bit lazy just quoting myself, but if nothing else I know I will want to read this at some point in the future, and it seems to fit here.

So far things are running suspiciously smoothly. Arrived in Bristol on time yesterday after an unusually pleasant train journey. Spent most of the way chatting with a very interesting elderly lady who used to be an RAF nurse, so has travelled an awful lot of the world and had the odd adventure.... Plus it has to be said that South West Trains' new trains have the first well-designed bike carrying system I've seen, which makes bike transport so much less hassle.

The I proceeded to turn the 10 miles I had to cycle between houses I was scheduled to view into 20 by appalling map reading (this is no exaggeration - I read it off the bike's computer at the end of the day), and to schedule my journeys perfectly so that as soon as I stepped outside it would start to bucket down with rain and as soon as I arrived somewhere the sun would come out. Let's just say I'm very glad the youth hostel has good radiators that stay on overnight, otherwise I would have had the joy of putting saturated shoes back on this morning.

The 3 places I saw via adverts all had something wrong with them - one was too far out, one was lovely but with a person I took an instant dislike to, and the third was in Easton, which I am told is an area some taxi drivers refuse to take people to - enough said really. Finally I met up with Sarah, a friend's [Brian's] ex-girlfriend, who by chance has just bought a house (picked up the keys yesterday) with 2 spare bedrooms and likes the idea of having a lodger for the first few months to help make up the cost of buying furniture and doing the place up. It's in Bedminster, which is about a mile south-west of the centre, so gives me a 5 mile bike ride or a shortish train journey to get to work. Should get me fit.... It's a decent place at the moment, but a lot of the decor has a tastelessness reminiscent of student houses, so with a few week's work we can turn it into a really nice house. The area seems reasonable; not the posh bit where everyone ideally wants to live (Clifton) but only the rich toff students can afford to when daddy pays (not that I would turn it down by any means, but nothing suitable came up round there), a few inviting looking pubs, none of the grime that some inner bits of Bristol have smeared all over them, decent local shops and a short walk into town. I am spoilt with having had so much on my doorstep in Brighton, but then I won't miss the noise, and this isn't far out....

I stayed in the youth hostel last night, which was surprisingly nice (up to the standards of Scandinavian & German ones - better than I expect in [ahem] Cool Brittania), but a shared room is not ideal, especially when the guy in the bed above me had to be out at 6am, but someone else didn't make it in till 2:30, so I've had less sleep than I would have liked. For the next few nights I'll be in a B&B near work. If previous experience is anything to go by it will be a far less nice place, and by Saturday morning I'll feel like Stanley in the Birthday Party, but a single room will definitely be an improvement. On the weekend I can move in to the new place, but there's no furniture at all and renting a van that weekend is proving difficult, so I may still stay at the B&B I have booked for the weekend, depending on whether I can sort out something to sleep on in the house.

My impression of Bristol so far is pretty positive. It is very obviously more of a city than Brighton, both in terms of the centre having the feel of somewhere significant, which I have missed over the last few years, and in terms of some areas having a sort of edge to them that only Whitehawk has in Brighton. Nothing serious - even when I was lost in St.Paul's I didn't feel uneasy asking for directions or anything like that - but they just feel like less of an insulated playground than Brighton. The waterfront area has been very nicely redeveloped, without ruining the old harbour, and the youth hostel is right in the docks, which is a definite bonus.

Today will be my first day at work, which I'm looking forward to, but I'm now so paranoid about my map-reading that I'm going to set off from here very soon even though it's only 4 miles away and I don't need to be there till 10. I'm awake anyway, so it's no better to sit here reading a book rather than there....
posted @ 11:57 PM -

so far so good

Time taken from arrival in Bristol to having a place to live: approximately 4 hours. A friend's ex-girlfriend has just bought a house, in a decent area, with 3 bedrooms, and needed a lodger to help with the cost of doing the place up. Only problem is that I'll have to move from one room to the other once it's painted, but that's a small price to pay for cheap rent in what will then be a freshly decorated room. If only everything were this easy....

First day of work tomorrow; I hope things continue to run this smoothly.
posted @ 3:35 PM -

Sunday, April 28

and it's goodnight from me

Sorting my computer out is turning into a truly tortuous process. I've ended up doing a completely clean install, which means lots and lots of wasted time, and I still don't have all the software I want installed. Some reprobate has my Excel CD, which is most annoying. This time round I've lost a total of about 4 days to the PC; add that to the troubles I had in December and this starts to get serious. Obviously it wouldn't get me anywhere, but I am tempted to bill Microsoft for lost productivity for all the hours I could have been earning money instead of swearing at an inanimate object.

Anyway, I'm moving tomorrow, and part of the result of this is that I'm not actually ready. I still have quite a lot to pack and I'm in a bit of a mood because of it. I think as soon as I leave here the mood will lift because I'll go back to looking forward to where I'm going, but right now I'm being very snappy.

I'm shutting this computer down now, and updates may be sporadic here because I won't have a home computer for a little while. Same goes for email, so if you write to me and get no response please don't get worried or offended - Sam & Scott in particular I owe you both emails, but it may be a while till I can do anything about that.
posted @ 5:09 PM -

Saturday, April 27

So how can you get involved in this conspiracy to otherthrow the government without making too much effort or getting your hands dirty? Well the answer is to spend, spend, spend!

The Decadent Action Manifesto. Link from Popism.
posted @ 3:41 PM -
The leaving party was good. Flattering turnout, much drinking, and surprisingly little hangover. Then this morning I went to the Albion's victory parade to celebrate something that happened while I was in Canada - promotion to Division 1, followed by winning Division 2. My interest in football has been waning because I get to matches so rarely, but it was still good to see a crowd in blue and white and hear one final roar of Seagulls before leaving town. I also took many pictures, of people last night and of the crowd today, but I can't do anything with them until I get my computer back to full working order. This is very annoying - my total 80Mb of memory card now has no space left on it at all.

Time to see if upgrading to Windows XP will sort my problems out. In theory it ought to, but I am far from convinced.
posted @ 3:36 PM -

Friday, April 26

Supply of Scientists and Engineers

The long-awaited Roberts Review of the Supply of Scientists and Engineers was published recently. I probably won't have time to read the whole lot for a few weeks, but the foreword makes all the right noises:

Scientists, mathematicians and engineers contribute greatly to the economic health and wealth of a nation.... The challenge we face is to continue to attract the brightest and most creative minds to become scientists and engineers.

It is a welcome change to see someone with influence in government recognise that access to and attractiveness of education are about bigger issues than the choices open to one individual, but actually end up benefiting the whole country. Thanks are due to the NPC for being the only student body to actually provide input for the Review; it looks like they have been listened to, which is also a refreshing change from the usual story with education policy.

Meanwhile, there is other interesting UK University news - a committee set up to look into general funding of institutions has come out with a fairly scathing report about how low a priority the government has been making this issue, and how detrimental the current system of research assessment is. I have just a glimmer of hope that this might be about to change, though I think it's still fairly unlikely....
posted @ 7:55 AM -
The world's fastest supercomputer has just been built in Japan. I think I ought to repeat Alex's comment on the article:

I'm sure it can't just be me that thinks these say something about international research priorities...

"The new machine...is being used by the Japan Marine Science and Technology Centre to make predictions about the future of the Earth's climate and its crust."

"The previous record holder, ASCI White at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the US, was built by IBM and is used to simulate nuclear weapons explosions."
posted @ 6:22 AM -
I walked about a mile around central Brighton today in the course of tying up some loose ends before I move. What really struck me was how very nearly every business that I walked past or into has changed in the time I've been here. Those that haven't changed ownership enitrely have either moved or been renovated. I'm not quite sure if that means Brighton is unusually unstable or that I've been in one place for too long, but either way the fact that I'm about to leave made me much more aware of this.

Booking a one way train ticket was a strange sensation.
posted @ 6:05 AM -

Thursday, April 25

Oh dear. I seem to have left sorting out my accommodation on arrival in Bristol too late. It's not that I can't find anywhere, it's just that I have a choice between either paying large sums of money to stay in an inappropriately upmarket hotel, or moving between various establishments for my first week there, thanks to the Bank Holiday and the football (FA Cup Final in Cardiff - apparently this is filling up Bristol guesthouses for the relevant weekend). If I were actually seeing different cities I would quite like to be upping sticks every few days, but it seems like a bit of an unnecessary hassle if each move is only a mile or two.

In other news I have noticed that there is a place called Catbrain only a couple of miles from where I will be working. It's too disconnected from Bristol itself to be a practical place to live, but I am quite tempted anyway just so I can have that in my address.
posted @ 12:22 PM -
Are humans dumber than rice?
posted @ 11:30 AM -
Mission accomplished. I handed in the last bit of coursework this afternoon, so now all I have to think about is the one project that I can focus on for 4 months. What a luxury! Meanwhile I have some minor details like van hire to sort out for this move, but I'm looking forward to that....

Oh yeah, and just in case you're in the Brighton area and I haven't already told you - you can celebrate never having to see me again tomorrow evening at the Evening Star. Well actually you can celebrate it wherever and whenever you like, but if you want me to be there that's my plan.
posted @ 9:18 AM -

Wednesday, April 24

A further upsetting twist in the general trend of stories that imply racism, and particularly anti-semitism, is on the rise again in Europe: a Berlin policeman apparently issued advice that Jews should avoid displaying identifying marks like skullcaps or stars of David when walking the streets because it puts them at risk of attack. Unlike the other reactions I've read, I can't bring myself to be angry with the copper for issuing what might actually be sensible advice. What does upset me is that a climate exists in which it could even be thought necessary to say it.

Personally I choose not to wear any signs that I am a Jew; not because I am afraid, but because I don't want people I meet for the first time to judge me by that, not even other Jews whose prejudice would probably be a positive one. It's not important enough a feature of my self-identity for me to want people to notice that before they get to know me a little. I still think it's very important that I could wear such things if I wanted to, and I can (and do) tell people about my roots without fear, and for religious Jews this is a really big issue because wearing the outward signs of the faith is an important part of their religious observance.

I guess I could respond to all this by saying that we're lucky to have white skin, because at least we can hide our identity from strangers, but I'm not content to resign myself to that. Hiding one's ethnicity should never have to be a serious suggestion anywhere in the world, and when it starts to be an issue relatively close to home it just adds to my already mounting sense of unease.
posted @ 4:08 PM -
This, on the other hand, is highly amusing.
posted @ 5:24 AM -
Just what I wanted to read a week before moving to Bristol: there's been a huge surge in crime there over the past year.
posted @ 5:23 AM -

self-censorship online

Scott informs me that Dooce has shut down her blog. I don't read her site regularly, but I've been sort of following things since she was fired because of the site. At the time the general reaction of bloggers (probably best summed up by a lively MetaFilter discussion) was divided between those saying this was really terrible, and those saying it was not at all surprising. My first reaction was to write something here about how terrible it all was and how we should all be free to say what we like, but that post never got published because I realised how wrong it was. I severely restrict what I write here precisely because it is public, and there are different reasons why different things get restricted. I never explicitly wrote down my rules for what gets left out before, but I think I'll try now:
  1. Trouble at work - like any employer-employee relationship, my relationship with the people I've worked for over the past couple of years has not been perfect every day. I gripe about this very readily to friends and family, but would never write about that here. Two reasons: people I work with might read it and be upset, and potential customers might read it and make the connection with where I work. I don't want either of those happening, and if I do cause either of those my employer would be entitled to be unhappy. There has been one sort-of exception to this, which was when I was in a dispute with the Vice-Chancellor of the University, but I wrote about that because it wasn't an interpersonal issue - it was a very public dispute between me in my public function on the Students' Union, and him in his public function at the University. Because I was raising publicity for it extensively anyway, there was obviously no harm in also doing so here.

  2. Arguments with family or friends - there have been one or two exceptions, but those have been when I was very deeply angry and wanted to make a point by writing here. Normally I just keep those things between the people concerned and others who I single out to talk to about it. It's no-one else's business so I don't advertise it here.

  3. Love life - admittedly this has been mostly uneventful for all the time that I've been writing here, but that's not the only reason I don't write about it. It's another case of things between me and one other person, which I have no right to share with the rest of the world. I'm sure if I were in a relationship it would be mentioned here, but certainly in no detail. I guess this one's actually pretty obvious; it's not something I'm accustomed to reading on other peoples' pages

  4. The Middle East - this is a new one. I used to write about this quite a lot, because I have strong opinions and I think I'm less partisan and better informed than some of the other people whose opinions I read. However, I am tired of the arguments that entail, so this is now a subject that I have decided I will never raise in conversation (and might just deliberately avoid) with any Jew, Muslim or political radical. I can't change anything out there, and I'm totally reliant on second-hand information about it, so it's just not worth me wasting energy getting worked up about. All that sound and fury can be better used elsewhere.

When I started writing here my dad asked me repeatedly if I'm concerned about writing personal things in such a public medium, but the truth is that I don't write anything that I would object to you reading ("you" being whoever you are, because I don't know who all my readers are, though I think I do know who the 5 who actually come back are). To quote one of the MeFi responses: Don't write in your blog what you wouldn't tell your coworkers to their face. That's not just things about them, but anything I wouldn't share with the person sat next to me on the train, if, that is, they ever asked. There's lots here I wouldn't expect a stranger to be interested in, but you're reading it, and if you don't want to it's easy enough to stop - it's not like I'm being the pub bore and forcing anyone to listen.

So, do you write a public diary of some sort? If so, are parts of your life kept out of it? If not, doesn't this worry you?
posted @ 2:08 AM -

Tuesday, April 23

we are all goats.

link courtesy of Katherine
posted @ 9:47 AM -

Monday, April 22

Almost 1 in 5 of the people in France who bothered to vote chose one of the two far-right candidates. The only vaguely positive news is that this has brought people onto the streets in protest, but that hardly compensates, and to make things worse Le Monde stresses how the protesters (as with most headline-grabbing protest marches) are from only a limited section of society.

Le Pen is clearly not in danger of winning the Presidency (all of the other candidates' votes will clearly transfer to Chirac, leaving Le Pen with only his 17% and the other far-right candidate's 2% of the vote), but this is just one more thing adding to the many over the past year or two that has been changing my perception of racism. I had felt that racism was a slowly receding problem in Europe, with race relations slowly but reliably improving, but I have had to rethink that complacency after the riots in Northern England, attacks on refugees in the South, attacks on synagogues and congregations in France and Belgium, insane popular reaction to September the 11th, and now the electoral resurgence of the far right in France, where a couple of years ago commentators said that Le Pen's career was over. I am actually starting to be frightened by all this. It hasn't touched me directly yet, but I can't help feeling that I am noticing a trend which will continue to deteriorate.
posted @ 8:58 AM -
The essay is complete. And printed. And in the box with my signature in the "submitted work" book. Quite a relief - if only quality were proportional to amount of time spent agonising over each paragraph this would truly be a masterpiece - but not the end. I still have a programming project to do, and 3 days to do it in. I really must stop doing this to myself....

On the way to campus to hand the thing in I had two near misses with other cyclists. This is very odd. I'm used to cars being a danger to me and pedestrians being a danger to themselves, but cyclists aren't normally a hazard to other cyclists. Of course it was the other person's fault both times. It always is.
posted @ 8:37 AM -

Sunday, April 21

This is deeply worrying. Jen-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, looks like he might have made it to the second round of the French presidential elections. Even if the exit polls are wrong and he doesn't make it, the fact that he is close is bad enough.
posted @ 11:33 AM -

Saturday, April 20

I just said the first of those goodbyes. I hate goodbyes. Somehow it's impossible to have enough ceremony around one, somehow it's just never right. Everyone deserves better, but then if I made a really big fuss over such things it would just feel ridiculous. I suppose it's best not to worry about it really....
posted @ 4:22 PM -
Albion mentioned in Parliament. Speaking as a fan, this still seems like something of a waste of time - surely our elected leaders have better things to do with their work time than congratulating a football club?
posted @ 6:53 AM -

Not long left

I'm starting to actually say my goodbyes to people, because I only have about 10 days left here. There is at least 1 person I'm seeing tonight who I know I won't see again before I leave. It's strange actually, because it's not like I'll never come back, it's not as if people won't be able to visit me, and it's not exactly going to be hard for me to phone people up. It still won't feel the same though - people who I'm used to being a short walk away from will now require organisation if I am to see them, and it's really the first time I've left a network of friends behind because when I moved down here all my friends in London were going away at the same time, off to different universities.

I've also realised something important about leaving parties. I've been to many for people I don't actually know that well, and wondered whether I belonged there. Now various people who are not my closest friends are expressing an interest in a leaving party for me, and I've suddenly realised that for that one evening they will matter more than my close friends. For close friends all my leaving means is that they won't actually see me very often any more, but clearly we'll still talk and in some ways the (not very large really) distance won't matter, whereas for the outer circle of my friends this may well be the last that we actually hear from each other first hand.

In a way, saying goodbye to the place is more important than saying goodbye to the people, because my friends will still be my friends on the 1st of May, whereas however easy it is for me to come back to Brighton it will no longer be my home, so its significance to me will change radically. I went on a little bike ride up the hills around town last week, with the sun shining and the (ahem) city looking beautiful, and it was kind of emotional....

Anyway, back to writing something that I actually get credit for - that essay is progressing far too slowly.
posted @ 4:16 AM -

Friday, April 19

oh dear
posted @ 8:27 AM -

Thursday, April 18

Thor Heyerdahl RIP

I don't have many heroes, and one of them passed away today.
posted @ 11:41 AM -

PhD application number one

I think I've found the first PhD program to apply to - research into complex systems with specific reference to discontinuities of scale, and the effect that these have on urban development, mircoeconomics and ecosystems. I haven't read all that much about it yet, and I know nothing about the university it's at (Clemson, South Carolina), but from what I have seen it looks like a way to apply the techniques I've been enjoying playing with on the MSc to problems that I'm very interested in....

Back to dealing with my more immediate future now though - I have an essay to write.
posted @ 11:31 AM -
I'm having very serious problems with my computer at the moment, which is why posting is somewhat sporadic here. Bad timing - I have deadlines for coursework on Monday and Thursday of next week, a full memory card in my camera, and I wanted to write more about Canada. If I get back on track with my coursework I'll have time to sort the other things out....
posted @ 5:28 AM -

Wednesday, April 17

Disturbing search requests

Why do so many people search for pictures of nuclear warheads? I'm not at all surprised that lots of people search for nuclear warheads, but why pictures? Maybe if I also add phrases like schematics to make your own nuclear weapons I'll get more hits....

Disclaimer just in case I really need to say this explicitly - NO I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO MAKE NUCLEAR WEAPONS and if I did do you really think I'd advertise it here?
posted @ 4:19 AM -

Monday, April 15

back from skiing, which was great, but the journey back was horrible because the flight was overbooked and we got dumped.... Will write more later as I have lots to do, but the main thing is that I have received, signed and returned my contract with HP, so I do now know that I'm definitely going to Bristol, which is great news but also part of why I'm busy....
posted @ 5:12 AM -

Thursday, April 4

off skiing

I don't think I've mentioned this here at all, which is odd seeing as I've been looking forward to it for a while, but I'm off to Canada shortly to do of my favourite things - staying in a lodge in the middle of nowhere to ski mountains that are disturbed only by our small group and can only be reached by helicopter.

I'll be back in 10 days or so
posted @ 2:54 PM -
One of Africa's eternal wars seems finally to have come to an end, with a truce in Angola
posted @ 4:27 AM -

goal machine

"Brighton goal-machine" Bobby Zamora has just received his first international call-up. It's only in the under-20s, but that's still something of a landmark seeing as it must be the first time in at least a decade that the Albion have had any sort of England international, and it is a reminder of quite how young he is too - he's still got plenty of time to go from being a top striker in a small league to really hitting the big time....
posted @ 2:05 AM -

Wednesday, April 3

Gene therapy success

This is a remarkable and pleasing first: a baby who needed a bone marrow transplant but had no suitable donor has been cured by gene therapy, which was used to mutate his existing bone marrow into the healthy, immune-cell-generating form required, giving him a complete cure.
posted @ 2:31 AM -

Tuesday, April 2

Apparently it is an ancient custom in the Czech Republic to whip women at Easter to ensure that they stay beautiful and fertile. Strangely enough the continuation of this custom is causing more than a little controversy....
posted @ 3:44 AM -
Middle East Times: Support Israel and Palestine
posted @ 2:59 AM -

PCs for Africa

Disposing of used PCs is becoming a serious problem as the number being thrown out increases each year, and the machines leak toxic chemicals if they are just dumped. Meanwhile, a significant proportion of the machines being thrown out still work, but just aren't powerful enough for their owners to use or sell. This seems like a terrible waste, and now there's an alternative: A Ugandan scientist at Stirling University has set up a scheme to send used PCs to Ugandan schools, where they are in such short supply that machines that can't be sold in this country are valuable there.
posted @ 2:35 AM -

If BP can cut emissions....

Apparently BP have managed to cut emissions to 10% below their 1990 levels, ahead of schedule, and at no extra cost because the cost savings have matched the capital expense required. As the article points out, this rather undermines Dubya's insistence that the Kyoto Protocol is unattainable without huge costs to the economy....

Meanwhile, China has announced an investment programme in electric car technology. Same principle here - if they can do this why can't the US?
posted @ 1:06 AM -

Monday, April 1

I [vaguely] know these people. I'm not impressed.
posted @ 10:45 AM -
Thief Steals Swimming Pool
posted @ 5:30 AM -

Enjoy the silence

Because I tend to over-rely on the BBC as a news source, and I believe that relying too much on any one source is a mistake, I've gone to every other UK news website I can find to get more news about the anti-semitic violence in France. None report it. I know it's a bank holiday, I know the Queen mother died on the weekend, I know the Jewish community in the UK is not all that big, and I know that far worse things are happening in Israel than in France, but excuse me for being deeply offended and more than a little rattled that no-one over here seems to find this worth reporting.

Of course the Israeli and French press both give this a lot of attention, but that has just upset me more, because I learn from the Ha'aretz article that there have been far more attacks in France over the last few months than I had been aware of, all going unreported in the UK (I don't read foreign papers at all regularly, so my not seeing these reports elsewhere doesn't mean they weren't written). The French press (sensibly enough) give the best coverage of what's actually happened - Le Monde recounts the spread of attacks across the country as well as the clearest indication of how this has been building up over time - 405 attacks since September 2000, and Libération has an opinion piece the title of which needs no translation or explanation: L'Antisémitisme Resurgit À Lyon.

The fact that this was a predictable reaction to events in Israel and Palestine makes it no less disgusting or worrying that it's happened, and the failure of the UK media to even give it a paragraph in a "breaking news" section just makes things worse.
posted @ 1:43 AM -

Kristallnacht

Anti-semitic violence is back. I had expected this for some time, but being right is a particularly unpleasant feeling at this moment.
posted @ 1:08 AM -
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