Category Archives: Arts

Family visits at Christmas

Last March, I told my mother I wasn’t coming home for Christmas. As the look of devastation begun to appear, I told her that she would have to come visit if she wanted to see me at Christmas. This gave me two benefits: (1) I didn’t have to worry about making plans to travel home and (2) my mother would focus on planning a trip and not me leaving all summer.  And it finally happened!  They arrived at the Heathrow airport last week!

We got to spend a few days in London. Our airbnb was out just a few metro stations away from the middle of all the tourist attractions, so it was a nice place to be, but the building with the windows knocked out across the road from the metro stop was a little unnerving.

Some of the best experiences we had in London we had was seeing Wicked and visiting the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide. James booked us tickets to see Wicked, which I got to see in NYC. I really enjoyed seeing it a second time because it was like rewatching a movie or book — you got to catch all the foreshadowing. I was able to recall some of the clues after watching it the first time, but it was amazing to see how much I missed the first time.

The slide was 80m tall and takes 40 seconds to slide down, and Alex was able to convince James to do it. Here they are admiring their challenge, and conquering their challenge.

James was a little less enthusiastic about enduring the slide than Alex was. He’s lowered the amount of time he’s willing to endure anything from 40s to 30s…

After venturing around London, we headed to Cambridge to spend time there. Alex had  to leave the day after Christmas and I got to spend a couple of days with my parents, hanging out, and visiting the Ely Cathedral before they headed home.

IAMX Concert

Danny and I got the opportunity to go see IAMX in concert in London the weekend before Halloween, and I don’t think we could have planned the trip any better than it turned out. The day was so perfectly timed that we were never in any rush or even stressed about timing for one moment. We had a laid back dinner right before grabbing our tickets at Will-Call and getting killer seats on the first balcony. And an unexpected bonus, there was no filler opener so we got out of the concert with plenty of time to make the train back to Cambridge.

Now to the important part — the concert itself. One word: Indescribable. IAMX is can be characterized as ‘electronic’ music and one would expect that the show was some fancy lights and a guy standing up pushing a few buttons to play track after track, which could not have been further from what actually happened.


First, there were four people on stage including Chris Corner, the man who is IAMX, making everything you heard was done live. The drummer laid down the strong beats while the two women provided backup vocals and keyboard. Corner, coming out in his eccentric feathered hat, tank top, and leggings, made use of two microphones as he sang live. IAMX’s music can be identified by Corner’s extremely dynamic vocal range and ability to leap octaves to hit notes I could never dream of touching, but to me, that wasn’t the most bewildering part of his show — it was his ability, mastery, awareness to use a second microphone and assorted live mixed distortions to create the second thread of his voice that a listener would assume to be a pre-recorded track in his music. I cannot begin to explain how fantastic and stunning this was to watch  and listen to. 

Second, the lights. To the stereotype that electronic concerts are worth going to because they’re elaborate light shows with prerecorded music, this shattered all expectations. Instead of having that awesome light show to decent music, you had the awesome music (see above) accompanied by fantastic visuals.

This was easily one of the best concerts I will ever go to — the lights, the live creation of music, the emotions in his songs. I can’t say enough about it. Danny, thanks for joining me for a wonderful night!

Hedgehogs do exist!

Although this news that hedgehogs do exist will not be a revelation to many of you, I can say I saw my first hedgehog outside of captivity. I was walking one early morning and out of the corner of my eye I see a black blur climb up on the sidewalk and go towards bushes and stop. Thinking that I must be losing my mind, I walked over to try to identify the leaf, plastic bag, or crumpled up advertisement that just rolled up on the curb. I cross the road and get closer to my subject only to have a little hedgehog face staring back at me! We locked eyes, both confused by the others presence, until the hedgehog defense mechanisms kicked in — it turned around and buried its face in some leaves, the classic “I can’t see you so you can’t see me”-trick. Excited and perplexed by this encounter, I left the frightened creature alone and continued along my way.

Although I truly saw one, I really wondered why and how the possibility of the encounter ever occurred… After a quick google search of “Do hedgehogs live in the UK” (this was the second returned suggestion, I’m apparently not the only one), I have learned that hedgehogs are apparently fairly common in the UK and under threat. This is a much happier theory than a child lost his hedgehog one afternoon …

Churchill Formal Hall Candlelight

Anyway, the food here is really not as bad as I anticipated. I’ve been able to bake a few chicken breasts and some potatoes to put with a salad to take for lunch most days, and I’ve cooked a few dinners a week and eaten at formals and out the rest of the time. I guess I’m spoiling myself when it comes to formal hall food – award winning chefs are hired to plan the menu and cook, so the food is always extravagant  and delicious.  Plus, it’s kinda fun and a good reason to leave work to go get dressed up in suits for dinner. I just need to invest in more formal wear…

Sunrise over the Cam from Magdelen Boat House
Sunrise over the Cam from Magdelen Boat House

A little back to reality here… work (school) is going well. I’m I’ve finished my third week in lab (sitting at my desk) and have been learning quite a bit. Most of my day is split a couple different tasks – learning the theory  and numerical processing behind Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and learning how to use two different CFD programs – OpenFOAM (an open source C++ CFD library) and STAR-CCM+ by CD-Adapco and Siemens – as well as some additional software that is used by our lab (including LaTeX and a Linux cluster). As one could imagine, the licensed, corporately developed code is a little better when it comes to the Graphical User Interface… In the long run, I will be using CFD to model combustion and will hopefully couple this to other work my lab does, but for now, there’s a lot to learn before I get there. I’m trying hard to make sure to take ample notes to be able to install all of the CFD programs all over again as well as have a small packet of condensed CFD theory for next years graduate students – it’s a hair more time consuming, but good practice.

West Cambridge Sunrise
West Cambridge sunrise on the way back from the gym

Outside of the working hours, I’ve been enjoying rowing more and more. Robinson’s boat club has finally divided up the novices into two teams and Pedro and I made the first novice male boat, NM1. We had our first outing as a crew on Thursday morning and it went very well. I’m anxiously looking forward to tomorrows outing and the Queen’s Ergs event as well (comically, I noticed they use the same WordPress theme as me). Since I need to be awake early for rowing a few times a week, I’ve decided to make mornings my gym time on the off days. I’ve been making it about 3/4 of the time, but I think I’ll get better about it.

Sunset off Pembroke Street where I work.
Sunset off Pembroke Street where I work.

I think I’m also finally getting over this cough that I’ve had for two months now. The first round of antibiotics didn’t do anything and the chest pains got worse. I’m now on a more aggressive antibiotic that covers pneumonia and various strains of bronchitis and my cough has subsided greatly and pain is less frequent. I’m hoping it goes away entirely. The surgery here (doctors office) did recommend me for a chest x-ray and a spirometry (breathing) test. I’m curious if they’ll show inflammation.

This afternoon, I’m headed to London with my friend Danny to go see IAMX in concert. We’re hoping to catch one of the last trains out, but we’re gonna play it by ear.