7/6/09

Every day I wake up at 7:15AM, without an alarm, have a bowl of cereal, and walk the mile or more to the University. On the way, I go down Blackboy Hill, along Whiteladies Road and then take a branching side-street.

Along the way, I sometimes have second breakfast, or drop into random stores, or admire Britain's economical cars. The cars in Bristol are, in general, larger than the cars in Birmingham (where four-door vehicles were rare), but no where have I seen an SUV, Hummer, or pick-up since being here. This makes me very happy.

7/7/09

There are things that I save. I don't eat my Christmas chocolate till June. I don't finish my Halloween candy till sometime after Easter (when I generally find more, though less so now… the Easter Bunny doesn't know my address and, most of the time, neither do I). I never watched the 14th episode of Firefly, and I dread finishing James Harriot.

I do this with restaurants and experiences as well, I save them up till the opportune moment. In Bristol, I've been making sure that opportune moments come about regularly. On my first night in Bristol I passed a place called the Falafel King down by the floating harbour. A few nights later, I decided to eat there.

Andreas, one of the Italians, would later recommend a falafel at the Hope & Anchor, but, learning that I'd had one of the Falafel King's, he just shook his he sadly and said I'd already had the best… no other falafel could compare.

The Falafel King, as far as I can tell, never closes - he stays open with the tenacity of a manque megalomaniac. That night, at 22:30, he was open. Waiting. I approached and he stood, aloof, exuding an aire of regal authority. I asked for a falafel and he stared at me a moment before deigning to inquire, in measured, thickly accented tones, if I would like a large or small. I requested the former and he turned majestically from me: it would be done.

From within his royal wagon, the sounds of labour emerged.

He returned, the falafel brandished as a monarch's sceptre.

Did I want sauce?

What sauce would be best?

He swept his hand magnaminously, encompassing, in its arc, the whole of his tiny dominion. "All are best.", he said, and his words were uncontestable. Soon, my falafel had been mingled with a variety of sauces. As I walked away, I could feel his presence behind me, a ball of power contained in a falafel box. And I know he'll be there. Waiting.

7/8/09

I'd worked late the past few evenings, partly for lack of alternatives and partly because I'm enjoying myself. But Wednesday was destined to be different. I'd found, while walking the city, a scrap of paper on a bulletin board speaking of an "Acoustic Folk Session".
I walked down later with some trepidation - the last time I'd played folksy music with people, it had been with Steca and her harp, a very long time ago, and that experience probably wasn't representative.

I found my way in through the construction and, in order to blend in and gain the barkeep's blessings, ordered myself a stiff drink.
Fortified with a glass of ginger ale, I discreetly eyed the jam session from a shadowy corner of the room. They were having a merry time, hoping from one lively tune to the next, seemingly flawless in their performance, yet unaware of what lurked in the darkness.

Soon, though, I had my own whistle out and its sounds were detected, emerging from the darkness. They waved at me and, after protests, I joined them.

There are some places on Earth where a man is judged by the colour of his skin or the content of his character, by the truth of his words or the quickness of his draw; in Bristol, at least on this night, a man is judged by the numerity of the pennywhistles he brings to the table. I had two, and this led to conserted muttering: I meant buisness. Little did they know that another was hiding in my bag.

In short, though, we had a wonderful time and I was able to latch on to parts of at least some of the pieces. Next week, when they meet, they'll again hear a whistle in the dark.

7/9/09

Mike (the radio beacon guy) and I have had a fairly huge laboratory set aside for our use. It has these wonderful large windows and skylights, plus functional model planes hanging from the ceiling.

And the ceiling is high! A study by Meyers-Levy and Zhu shows that salience of this leads to creative, free-ranging thought (as opposed to the focused thinking promoted by low ceilings).

But today, Thursday, Steve's thoughts are in an altogether different realm. We talk in his office: we have a functioning radio beacon, we have a nearly-functional operating system, we have propotypes and plans for sensors, but, what we really need, he says, is something - anything to throw into the glacier in Greenland.

He wants me to talk with Jim, who has been developing an "operating system" of sorts for the microprocessor we're using. He wants me to be able to debug the thing if it goes wrong in Greenland. Nevermind that Jim's spent three years working on it. The goal now is for me to make a functioning protoype sensor package within the week and I'm game for it.

To facilitate the osmosis, I move to Jim's room, which has both high ceilings and the highest concentration of Italians in Bristol. In this picture it's empty because it's about 8:30 and no one else is really around yet. The desk I'm borrowing (hence the lack of Richard-ness) seems oddly cubicalesque, but I'll only be there another couple of days before I'll be pounding away at more physical things again.

Jemma shows up in the afternoon, freshly returned from Greenland and filled (you can sense it) with a joy which only freezing-cold rivers of slowly moving ice can bring. She's impressed with our progress, but bemoans the lack of a pressure sensor. I've spent the past couple of weeks working on conductivity and temperature sensors; pressure sensors initially seemed too expensive and bulky, but Jemma's convinced that they are the most important sensor we could have.

I'm pleased to say that I've since found a solution :-)

7/10/09

I contine to refine the pressure-sensor concept and muck around making a wiki to keep everything organised. That accomplished, I fiddle around with Ubuntu on my computer. After much fiddling, I discover a way to make the sound and microphone work - this gains me mini-hero status on one of Ubuntu's bug forums. Lasping in the glory, I won't make my first Skype phone call until a few days later.

Over my lunch break, I'm drawn into a music store and buy another pennywhistle (a wee-little Generation, in the key of F). The shop manager even lets me try one of the expensive whistles, a Susato, and it really does make a nicer sound.

There's another restaurant on my list, and I decide to eat there over lunch.

Che's Bistro turns out to be a little more up-scale inside than I might have suspected. I'm greeted in the usual Bristolian way by two ordinarily dressed waitresses. I'm sure that there are other places where these people would have that "anarchist" look about them, but not here.
I find myself craving the Egg Benedict's and wait with anxious anticipation for it, looking out the back at the floating harbour in the meantime. Finally, the awaited moment comes, and the Egg Benedict's emerges from the kitchen borne by a cheerful waitress. I bite in and nothing happens. Odd… I have another bite and, again, nothing. Something's funny here. I take another bite and, again, there is no taste. Something is terribly wrong! I tremble indignation at this injustice… they may be here to poison me, but they will only kill a man!

I stand up, the chair making a loud scraping sound before flipping over backwards - BANG! - at the end of the rough tracks it's just made in the hardwood floor. EB's in hand, I stride to the kitchen, the eyes of the other patrons tracking me anxiously. The kitchen door flies asunder with a BANG! and there's the chef, wearing black jeans and a bandana; the waitress, hearing all this, emerges behind him, eyes wide.

"¡Moriría el levantarme, después vivo algo vida comiendo esto! ¡Con riesgo de sonar ridículo, déjeme decir que sensaciones del gusto dirige al revolucionario verdadero!", I exclaim. Gesticulating furiously, the EB's slosh about onto the floor while the cowering chef repeats, "I did not know! I did not know!" I narrow my eyes, setting the plate down on his stove with a BANG! - "Para lograr mucho usted debe primero perder ignorancia!".

I bore into the chef's eyes with my own before turning smartly, letting the door BANG! behind me, and stride away, the sound of the wailing chef trailing after me - "I can do better! I can do better!".

At least, that's how it would have gone… if I knew better Spanish. You see, Egg Benedict's is a complicated dish. The chef must concomitantly: (1) cook toast, (2) fry bacon, (3) poach eggs, and (4) produce Hollandaise sauce. All these take different times to make and must finish simultaneously. Further, the poached eggs must be cooked such that the insides are just past being liquid, but not yet solid; the Hollandaise sauce must be given constant attention to avoid uneven, incomplete, or over-cooking (it's in the just-right zone for only seconds); the bacon musn't burn.

EB is made, among other ingredients, with eggs, butter, vinegar, basil, lemon juice, tobasco, and maybe a hint of lime, and, when you bite into it, all of these flavours should leap into your mouth like a crazed iguana - claws extended! You've never tasted anything like it! So you see, knowing all this - having done all this - I was quite displeased, but expressed myself in a most civil way, declined a free dish, and finished my meal in quiet dispair. You see, I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The chefs liberate themselves.

After all this, it was time to leave town! I walked across the empty streets into the gathering dark, the train station a beacon of light and hope. A ham, cheese, and pineapple crepe in hand, I boarded the train and sped away into the night.



Check if this is a private message just for Richard:


Kelli - Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 06:43:03 (PDT)
Oh dear! poor Richard. Well, congratulations... I fear I shall never make eggs benedict because of how complicated it sounds. Now, if you want a nice soft tarte au citron au francais, just let me know. :)

BW - Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 12:07:42 (PDT)
Richard, do you mean to tell me that you left with three pennywhistles and only FOUR shirts??? tsk, tsk. When you said you may have over-packed, you meant that you should have left another pennywhistle at home, right?

Mom - Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 13:19:33 (PDT)
Have you noticed that Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. are leaving less and less for you due to those hoarding qualities you mention!

Mom - Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 13:20:36 (PDT)
Great photos of your work environment!! Next time you go jam--lets see a photo of you with the group!!!!

Mom - Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 13:22:22 (PDT)
When you come home, please make me some EB--I want to experience a crazed iguana in my mouth! (for a second-before I rush to the bathroom)

Richard - Sunday, August 02, 2009 at 16:24:22 (PDT)
I appreciate the chocolatey gifts left me by said figures... just slowly. I'm afraid taking pictures of the group is not only difficult in the dark lighting, but prevents me playing with them, so I probably won't be able to do this, Mom.

Richard - Sunday, August 02, 2009 at 16:25:09 (PDT)
Oh, Kelli! You should try your hand at the EB. Just don't go pro till it tastes right. The citron au francais sounds quite good, may I take you up on that?

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