Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 12:46 pm

Posted by Alix

Letter to an Unknown Soldier project.

Dear Percy,

I’m supposed to be writing to an Unknown Soldier apparently, but I couldn’t think of anything to say to him. So I thought I’d write to you instead. It feels more comfortable. Thinking about the Cenotaph, and sacrifice, and horror, and pacifism, and all the rest of it, freezes me up; but I am happy sitting on the back steps with you just out of focus, on the step above me maybe, having a smoke (you must have smoked?) and rambling on down a sort of crackly genetic telegraph wire as we watch the white washing blow in lines across Crouch End.

Crouch End and Finsbury Park are the places we have in common. I fetch up there periodically. We just missed each other, walking round the streets. Often I would see things unchanged in the hundred years since you saw them – a battered old door jamb covered in treacly brown Victorian paint. The rooflines. The clock tower, still rather new in your day. Number 34 Park Road which I used to pass coming on to the Broadway, where your widow was living a scant seven months after you were killed, so I can only imagine you too once opened that gate, walked up the path and knocked, or let yourself in, at the original door that isn’t there any more. Sometimes I would find the shops flashing in and out of focus, clothes boutique/butcher, juice bar/fishmonger, gift shop/ironmonger, and look up at the clock tower and it would dizzy me a bit, and I would wonder, is it now or is it then? Am I about to accidentally slip behind a molecule and see him, or know something new about him?

Let me start with what we do know. You were born on 16th July 1882 in Melbourne, Australia, to the West Country-Irish immigrant parentage that was not unusual in that time and place. I think what happened is that you joined the army around 1900 – the British army recruited in Australia, and the Boer War was the first conflict your fledgeling country was seriously involved in. The family story is that you joined the army and fought in South Africa and then India, served alongside a man called Jack Wells and came home for tea with him when you were both demobbed in London, and married his sister – this last event we can pin down to 1909. You were within a few days of coming off the reserve list when the Great War broke out and hauled you into the British Expeditionary Force. When I looked up your regiment I found that they were stationed in those places, in that order, in those years. So that much I think I know.

You were red-haired. When you were a non-uniformed scout on the North-West frontier (I suppose they would call that a spy these days) you had to take extra care to keep your hair covered because you were so recognisably Caucasian from a mountainside away. You totally rocked at riding, shooting and swimming. You could dive from the top of a mast into the sea. You were a calm man, unflappable and grave. You identified as a Victorian, not an Australian – Australia wasn’t unified until after you’d left. You stood on four continents in your 32 years on earth.

My granddad, who was four when you were killed, had very few memories of you that I know about. One – and this I think is wonderful – was of you standing at the stove, stirring something. It’s a salutary reminder that so much of what we “know” by cultural consensus about Victorian patriarchy is really based on middle class norms. Father in the parlour, mother in the nursery, cook in the kitchen, maid in the attic. All right for some. In April 1911 when the census was taken you, your wife, your baby son, your parents-in-law and your sister-in-law all lived in the same two-up two-down plus attic house in Finsbury Park. How could the men not muck in under those conditions? Life must have been a constant cycle of creation, consumption, dirt and cleanliness, a steady wearing through of enamelled pans and paintwork and stair carpets of the sort that only really happens in houseshares now. Another way in which your life is closer to mine than might be expected.

We don’t seem to have Talked about the War much yet, do we. I suppose that’s my point in writing, really. Like everybody else being written to in this project you had a life, and a family, and places you saw and people you met, and all this went on for years and years before those few months in 1914 that saw you co-opted into a Grand Narrative. If you had survived the war all those things would be your defining characteristics. You would have emerged from the dramatic sepia in which you are set in your tartan trews into the shabbier, workaday light of the 1930s and 1940s, perhaps started appearing in blurry awkward poses on benches in parks. Perhaps cemented a reputation for daft humour, or the ability to write doggerel verse, or dozens of other things. The point I am making is that when I try to write to you as a soldier of the First World War, I probably know you least of all. And I imagine that we are all in fact missing the best parts of all of you when we reduce you to a noble sea of khaki. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with this whole exercise.

Still, I’m no better. In a way that started out as a joke, you have become a sort of tragic talisman. Whenever I feel my back is to the wall, in however small a way, I think, “Percy would love this, to be here in the world now, scrabbling for money, or broken-hearted, or about to go into an exam, or in the dentist’s waiting room. He was so brave, this would be nothing to him. He would swap places with me in an instant.” But really that is not about you being killed in the war at all, it’s simply about your death, and the gratitude and envy we all feel towards each other as we see-saw down history, living and dying and being born and gradually in turn figuring out the truth that we too are going to die.

But we really should say something about war, so let me tell you one little story, about your son and grandson (I imagine you might scrabble as greedily for these vignettes as I scrabble for yours). One day latish in the 1960s, my granddad and my dad were coming out of a theatre somewhere north of Trafalgar Square. There was a Ban the Bomb march on. My granddad, a staunch conservative who had fought in his own war, bristled as a man with leaflets approached him – a straggly-haired, bearded man of about the same age. This is hard to explain to you without relating a whole narrative of social history from the decades after your death; but to a certain generation and a certain cast of mind, Ban the Bomb and Stop the War marches and the like were, and are, associated with beatniks, hippies and drop-outs, people who would avoid Doing Their Bit. You can still see it in the way right-wing political bloggers talk about protest marches now.

“No thanks, I was in the last lot,” my granddad said shortly, in answer to the proffered leaflet.

The man – my dad has never forgotten this – looked at him with conviction and some puzzlement, and tried to explain. “So was I,” he said. That’s why he was there.

And in spite of what I said at the outset about the Cenotaph, I do wonder which side you’d have been on.

Anyway, I’ve finished my cigarette.  I think I’m going to go back inside now.

Alix Mortimer

Pte Percy George Stevenage Mortimer, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), kia 26th October 1914.

 


Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 12:36 am
The last piece of IKEA furniture is DONE. DONE DONE DONE DOOOOOONE.

(Well, we may put knobs on the drawers at some point. But whatever, that's minor and easy to do and we may decide not to bother. Everyone seems happy to open the drawers from the side right now.)

The very last remaining things to do:

* I put the base and lids for our old blender up on Craigslist Free Stuff, and someone is coming to get them tomorrow.
* The IKEA boxes go out with the recycling on Friday.
* On Saturday J and I will haul two huge bags of fabric recycling to the farmer's market.
* Possibly there will be some vacuuming.

And then I will take photos of the living room/dining room/kitchen/library and you can all see what a splendid apartment we have, now that it's populated by furniture and books and appliances rather than boxes and boxes and boxes.

=====

My knees were feeling somewhat better today (yes, plural--I'm putting more weight than usual on the left to spare the right, so the left is complaining too), despite poor sleep. I've been trying to work from my very comfy office chair instead of in bed, and I think it's helping. After J and I met for dinner, we took a very small stroll in the park. I had the brace on my right knee and was careful not to overdo it, and my caution was rewarded by an almost pain-free climb up the subway stairs on our way home. I rested for a few hours and then got up and did a bit of tidying (no heavy lifting). So far so good.

I can feel my shin muscles aching now that I know what I'm looking for, and the heating pad helped a lot yesterday, so I'm increasingly certain that working from home in a one-flight walkup has simply made me too sedentary and my muscles have weakened to where they can't adequately support my joints. I also need new sandals, which I will hopefully get on the way home from the knee doc tomorrow. I don't like any of this season's Merrell or Timberland sandals, and I've been wanting something a bit more solid and butch, so I'm seriously considering my first Birkenstocks. Fortunately the knee doc is at 33rd Street, so I'll pop over to Eneslow and try on shoes there to get a sense of Birkenstock sizes and how they feel on my feet.

=====

Yesterday was a pretty rotten day for me and X, and we were both staggering a bit today from the emotional hangover. But we managed to pull through it with a great deal of support from the always amazing J, and there was even a bit of cuddling and laughing later in the evening. Tomorrow we inaugurate our weekly family date night, which is probably going to be like a typical night except with more snuggles. I think that sounds excellent.

=====

I didn't get to bed until 7 a.m. yesterday, so I've been groggy and fleh all day. Time to try the yoga nidra mp3 of [personal profile] norah's that [personal profile] rydra_wong pointed me to, and see if it can put me to sleep at something approximating my best bedtime.
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 05:40 am

[The 2014 Alpbach Space Summer School participants. Photo not mine - pinched from Paxi the ESA mascot's home page. I made this picture a bit bigger than I normally do for posted photos. Can you see me?]

I missed a day of posting. This was a tactical mistake, as a day in Alpbach time is more like a week in terms of eventfulness. I'm up super-early on Wednesday morning in order to catch up, as today will be more of the same. The four student teams have until midnight tonight to hand in their final reports and presentations, after which neither can be altered. They go before the jury tomorrow and the winners are announced at Thursday's dinner.

Fished from what now feels like the dark recesses of distant memory, Day 7.

Monday began with the last set of lectures. These were rather thinly attended compared to the previous week, as around half of each team decided to skip them in favour of preparing for the preliminary design review. I found this a bit sad as the lectures were quite good. The first lecture was given by a very prominent French scientist, who, despite his habit of muttering through his beard, gave a rather beautifully structured overview of the last fifty-odd years of space exploration of the terrestrial planets (including the Moon). The slides were so good I've pinched them and asked permission to use some of them for future outreach talks. The penultimate and final lectures were given by a nearly as prominent but very shy German scientist, who talked about the outer planet's moons and the study of exoplanets. I was pleasantly surprised later to learn that the students found these inspiring, since neither of them were helpful in an immediate sense for their mission design for this school.

During the coffee break, our school's photographer took the group photo above, which (I believe) has been sent to the ISS. Alexander Gerst, the German astronaut currently aboard the space station, is an alumnus of the Summer School and headed a team while he was here.

When the last lecture finished, the students dispersed to wolf down their lunches and continue preparing for their Preliminary Design Reviews*, which took place at 1630. I was on a review panel with a fellow roving tutor and the French lecturer from the morning. During the review, the lecturer got out his laptop and started typing. Even I found this slightly unnerving, and I wasn't the presenter. What the students would've found even more unnerving is that he wasn't answering e-mail or even updating his Facebook status. Oh no. He was correcting their orbit calculations. With hindsight, we probably did the review in reverse order. We (said lecturer and I) began by giving them a lot of critical feedback, which was positively phrased, but also probably didn't help their nervousness. This is a fault of mine. I tend to jump straight into problem-solving. The third juror, a quiet and lovely man, didn't speak until we were nearly finished. He praised them both for the strength and originality of their scientific idea and for the quality of their presentation. This was good because it bolstered their confidence, on top of making them realise how much work they still had to do.

We dashed back to the hotel after the review for our tutor meeting at 18:00. The feedback was largely positive apart from one team. Flushed with the success of their requirements review (the one that I had attended on Day 4), they presented only two slides much too quickly and therefore missed a step in preparing for the final presentation, which lasts an hour. All of the team tutors are invested in their teams' success, but the two tutors for this team are so much so that they're practically part of the team and they looked gutted. (If you're finding yourself distressed on their behalf, don't worry; the team and their tutors have since recovered!)

We went to dinner to find a significant proportion of the students missing (mostly from that team), since they'd decided to stay in the Schoolhouse and prepare for their delta review. It transpired that it was the birthday of one of the team tutors. Every night one representative from each team has to stand up and describe briefly the team's progress. The teams are called in random order. His team (the one that featured strongly in my early posts and has gone from having the worst to probably the best team dynamics in five days) decided to break the rules by requesting to go last, and by all standing up together and rapping a poem they'd written in his honour. It was adorable.

We returned to the Schoolhouse after dinner. The tutors finally exited after midnight. Sadly, since it was Monday we couldn't find anywhere to have a beer in honour of the birthday boy. But I wouldn't say he came off too badly, given that he now has his very own song, immortalised forever on the Summer School's Facebook page.

Extracted from the fog of my underslept brain, Day 8.

Although the church bells woke me at 7 AM, I needed to get some work done so I didn't head to the Schoolhouse until nearly 10 AM. I visited each team in turn, but they were all so intent upon their individual tasks that I just sat quietly in the rooms working unless asked a question. Having been chastised by a member of one team who thought I hadn't spent enough time with them (true, but this is because every time I went in and offered to help, no one took me up on it!), I sat in their room with parts of their engineering group for a while in the afternoon prior to the Final Design Review.

I left shortly before the review, as I was part of their review panel, along with the head of the Summer School, who is also the head of the Austrian Space Agency. (I bet that wasn't intimidating for them at all, oh no.) They did pretty well, although for some mysterious reason they still had an abundance of speakers when it's plain that they only need one - the chap whom they appointed their spokesperson on the very first day. He has all the qualities and the complete vision of the mission that a leader needs, and I think their failure to recognise it stems from the relative youth of this team. We gave them plenty of feedback on their presentation. I stressed to them that if they performed a duty cycle calculation a lot of the problems with incorrect budgets and assumptions in their presentation would magically disappear. I also (after some discussion with the team tutors, who were wary of appearing biased), returned later in the evening to suggest to them that they appoint a single spokesperson for their final presentation and hinted strongly at the identity of the person they should consider appointing. They seemed to take it well, but who knows what they will decide in the end - one of the fun things about this process is the unpredictability of the students!

* Just to give you some perspective on how accelerated this timetable is, the JUICE mission was selected in 2012. We had our first requirements review last year. We have two more reviews before PDR, which is still over a year away.
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 11:27 pm
(A tidied-up, expanded, written-down version of a conversation I had enthusing about them to [livejournal.com profile] fanf at the weekend.)

Read more... )
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 08:13 am
Ergon

Hello from your belated RGL updates team!

If you're like me, you may be thinking that the featured article this week is some kind of Scandinavian design consultancy (my mind goes straight to "ergonomic", which sort of suggests that kind of thing, but maybe that's just me). Well, fear not, for Ergon, W1U 1BP is a Greek restaurant and deli in Marylebone. It's pretty good value according to my fellow correspondent, but keep an eye on what you're being served.

We have two (albeit related) new articles: one for the Broca cafe in Brockley, home of perky jazz, good service and tasty thick-cut sandwiches; the other for Broca Food Market, a hippy food shop on the other side of the tracks (literally), but run by the same people.

Following refurbishment, the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth has reopened.

Finally, Nivla Restaurant in Camberwell has now closed, so you will need to do further research for your Sierra Leonean eating options in London.
Monday, July 21st, 2014 01:30 pm

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

Hurrah, another story out.

http://www.fictionmagazines.com/shop/realm-issues/new-realm-vol-02-08/

(Only just realised this, despite having looked before, due to their website being a bit counter-intuitive.)

In other news, I have begun revising the novel I’m working on at the moment. It is a bit like trying to put together a really big jigsaw puzzle in several dimensions, when you keep discovering that some of the pieces are missing, and other pieces that aren’t missing are actually from another puzzle altogether.

Monday, July 21st, 2014 12:13 pm

[Image of one of many small cherubs in the church graveyard. I will hazard a guess at the translation of the German inscription "Die Seele ist nie ohne Geleit der Engel" as, "A soul is never without the company of angels."]

So. Sunday. Having a little difficulty summing up Sunday. For a start, I was particularly homesick for my family. We talked on Skype a few times over the course of the day. I watched Humuhumu bibble around her daddy in one of the new dresses her grandparents bought for her, playing with the new teddy bear her grandparents bought for her. (I sense a theme here.) She isn't too well, poor thing, as three of her canines are coming in at once and she's getting over a bad cold and an eye infection. Her voice was hoarse and she whimpered now and again because of the pain in her teeth, but, being an even-tempered child, she rallied on. I desperately wanted to give her a cuddle, and the five days I have to wait before I can do that weighed heavily on my heart.

I forced myself to go down to the Schoolhouse at 10 AM. Many of the students went to the church services at 9, so I didn't think it was worth heading in too much earlier. It was a quiet morning. The lack of urgency gave me a strong feeling that they still didn't seem to have a grasp on how much work they needed to do before Monday's review. My hunch was borne out as the afternoon progressed. They didn't start working properly until much later in the evening, after dinner, when at last the tutors lost patience and spelled out for them that "mission profile" means you have to have a full mission scenario from launch to end of mission defined, complete with orbit trajectories (and that means specific altitudes, please). You also have to know the mass of your spacecraft(s), an estimate of the power budget, daily data rate, communication band, ground station coverage, etc. And you need to have your payload defined, to ensure that you can deliver the science you have promised. They had a few of these numbers here and there, but others they hadn't even considered yet. It was finally enough to shock them into taking drastic action.

We left them to it at 12:30 AM and went in search of beer, forgetting that this is a small village and it was Sunday. Disappointed, we dispersed to our rooms just before it began to rain.
Sunday, July 20th, 2014 02:04 pm
I'm linking to a personal statement written by a member of the Wiscon committee charged to investigate harrassment reports against Jim Frenkel. There are many good comments on the post.

http://antarcticlust.dreamwidth.org/257808.html
Sunday, July 20th, 2014 10:32 am

[View over my outstretched legs as I relax on a lounge chair in the hotel garden.]

Most of the students and a fair number of tutors went on alpine hikes yesterday. Given that hauling my pregnant self from the Schoolhouse to the hotel, a distance of about 400 metres at an incline of OMG STEEP, leaves me breathless in the current heat wave (30+ degrees C), I decided not to go. I spent the morning and early afternoon alternately working and resting.

Just before 16:00 I headed back to the Schoolhouse. A team tutor (science) for one of the teams had not yet returned from the hike, and their science team was in disarray. With the permission of the other (engineering) tutor, I stepped in to marshal them to order. I put all their science objectives up on the blackboard and assigned the requirements to the members of the science team according to their interests. Some of them were already working on them, but no one knew what anyone else was doing, so there were both gaps and overlaps. One of them wanted to rewrite the objectives (not just the requirements, the original science objectives). I had to give my speech again about it being far too late for that and needing to move forward because they must have a payload (and spacecraft(s) and mission scenario e.g. orbits) by Monday. They settled down to do some serious work.

Once the scientists got organised, they started putting some numbers up on the board, which gave the payload and mission (orbit) analysis teams something to work with. After dinner, the team reconvened and each scientist took it in turn to explain and defend their numbers to everyone else.

All of this took most of the afternoon and the evening and I'm deliberately glossing over the details, but it was wonderful to watch the transformation from utter chaos and despair to order and optimism. Their leader, whom it was obvious to the tutors should have been the leader from the first day, had agreed very reluctantly to do so that morning. By the evening, he was in control, with the full backing of his peers. He called for a engineering review at 12:15 AM to ensure that the payload team were getting the interpretation of the science team's requirements right, and they identified where they'd need to have discussions or rethink the need for the given measurement range or resolution given available technologies.

I'm afraid I didn't rove much as a tutor yesterday since I got caught up in this team's struggle, so my goal for today is to wander more freely!
Sunday, July 20th, 2014 10:00 am
Sunday, July 20th, 2014 01:51 am
Unsqueamish science geeks will enjoy this post from Vincent Racaniello's Virology Blog about visiting labs that experiment with infectious agents. Vincent Rancaniello is sort of the Carl Sagan of virology. I highly recommend his virology MOOC at Coursera.
http://www.virology.ws/2014/07/14/visiting-biosafety-level-4-laboratories/

Kay Thompson, the author of the Eloise series of children's books, was seriously multi-talented.
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0860373/bio

Can you never get enough of lightning storms? Here is a map where you can watch them in almost-real-time. You can even have sound, but the sound needs work (it's a small "tick" instead of a giant "KABOOM").
http://www.blitzortung.org/Webpages/index.php

Some people like electric shocks. But as for the general notion that people don't like to sit around with nothing to do, I used to have a tiny frisson of panic when my dinner companion left to go to the bathroom, but after I learned to meditate, I look forward to an opportunity to sit around with nothing to do. (Even so, I don't do it on my own, only when I am waiting somewhere.)

Funny bit: "(In the lab studies, one participant’s data was tossed because an experimenter had accidentally left a pen behind and the subject used it to write a to-do list. Another’s was tossed because an instruction sheet had been left behind and he used it to practice origami.)"
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/people-prefer-electric-shocks-to-being-alone-with-their-thoughts/373936/

Oh no, millennials are living with their parents! Or are they? (Spoiler: People living in college dormitories are counted as "living with their parents.")
http://m.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/07/everybody-freaking-out-about-millennials-living-with-their-parents-needs-to-read-this-1-sentence/373893/

Supposedly in the early 80s you could only get a job working on the Macintosh team if you loved pineapple pizza. Things haven't changed much in high tech Silicon Valley. "The first step toward dissolving these petty Cultures is writing down their unwritten rules for all to see. The word 'privilege' literally means 'private law.' It’s the secrecy, deniable and immune to analysis, that makes the balance of power so lopsided in favor of insiders."
http://qz.com/225782/the-next-thing-silicon-valley-needs-to-disrupt-big-time-its-own-culture/

How constantly trying to make ends meet stresses people in poverty. "In making day-to-day financial decisions, Shafir says, "the poor are just better than the rich. They use their dollar better than the rich. They're more efficient. They're more effective. They pay greater attention." But they have less mental energy for other things.
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/07/14/330434597/this-is-your-stressed-out-brain-on-scarcity

The OH sent this to me with the comment that this is "why I wear purple [cochlear implant] headpieces."
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/07/17/332255209/hey-miss-idaho-is-that-an-insulin-pump-on-your-bikini

http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/07/14/331298996/why-did-black-voters-flee-the-republican-party-in-the-1960s

http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/07/10/330422908/dress-codes-are-open-to-interpretation-and-a-lot-of-contention
http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/08/02/racist-color-blind-dress-codes/

Parodies of "Blurred Lines" that aren't by Weird Al
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKfwCjgiodg (This one has an excellent fat female rapper)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC1XtnLRLPM (This is by a group called The Law Revue Girls)
Article about the Law Revue Girls version: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/03/robin-thicke-blurred-lines-feminist-parody_n_3858992.html
Sunday, July 20th, 2014 02:00 am
My right knee has been cranky for the last couple of weeks. The pain feels like it's directly under my kneecap. I didn't twist it or fall or anything; it's just started complaining when I go up and down stairs or spend more than about 15 minutes on my feet. I've been PRICEing and NSAIDing to no avail. J says it's a sign that I'm getting old. In 11 months I'll be able to say "I'm 37, I'm not old!" at him; for now I just roll my eyes.

...okay, I admit, it's more like PICE. I don't know how to rest. I certainly didn't rest it much last weekend; Readercon = lots of walking around the hotel + lots of driving. And when I have a brace on it doesn't hurt, so then I run errands and do dishes and so on. I'm sure I should rest it more.

I just don't know how to treat joint things. I am a tendon injury treatment expert. Muscle aches are easy to work out or soak away or ignore until they get better. But joints... I feel like the ice isn't even really getting through to the part that's sore, because my patella is in the way. Advil doesn't touch it (though I may still have an Advil tolerance from back when I took 2400 mg/day for my arms) and more troublingly, Celebrex doesn't either. And I hesitate to wear the brace all the time because that's counter-indicated for tendon injuries and (like any pain relief) it encourages overuse rather than rest. So I'm kind of stuck on what to do, other than literally sitting around with my leg up on a couple of pillows.

I have an appointment with a sports medicine doctor for Wednesday. In the meantime, joint pain sufferers, any suggestions?
Sunday, July 20th, 2014 01:25 am
PP: Neymar was in the top four scorers, so the 'place' part of the bet paid out.

There were five in the 'top four' so I think the bet* should be reduced by 4/5ths (number of places divided by the number of people who finished in them). Instead, they go 'there are three in the tie for third, so there's no fourth place, and so we're reducing the bet by 2/3rds'. That results in them paying out less. Odd that.

Overall, I made money with them. I'd have made more if Argentina had won overall.

It is impossible to close an account yourself via the website, but their online support has done that for me.

Coral: Sadly, neither Brazil nor Argentina won overall, so this was a total loss. Had Chile won against Brazil, based on what happened to Brazil, I'd have been laughing...

It is impossible to close an account yourself via the website, and they don't have online support. The "Always on hand to help" support phone number is closed, with no indication as to when it will be open. I have emailed them.

Overall: a small loss, but that's what makes bookmakers millions.

* Not the odds, because that would result in them paying out more. Odd that.
Saturday, July 19th, 2014 02:59 pm
I just got my first royalty check.

It has... a lot more digits than I was expecting. Four of them. BEFORE the decimal point.

My first thought was "Eeeeee!". My second thought was "This means my book is helping to keep Crossed Genres afloat". I am really, really glad to be part of something that's doing so well for CG.

And now I'm going to scan it before I deposit it. :D
Saturday, July 19th, 2014 10:20 am

[Image of ripe raspberries peeking out from beneath young green leaves. They grow wild at the roadsides in the village and are tiny and delicious.]

Let me see if I can gather my scattered wits enough to summarise yesterday's events.

The mood at breakfast was somewhat subdued due to the arrival of one of the lecturers from ESTEC, bringing news that one of our ESA colleagues lost his mother in the downing of Flight MH17. She was returning home to Malaysia after three weeks with her children and grandchildren.

We had to carry on regardless, so we marched down to the Schoolhouse for the morning lectures, which were all about mission design and operations. The students were just beginning to look a bit haggard, most of them having been in the Schoolhouse until at least 1 AM preparing for their first reviews, which took place at 16:30.

The reviews ran in parallel for the four teams, with a set of roving tutors assigned to each team to ask questions and decide if the science case was solid enough for them to carry on drilling down from the science requirements into observational and payload requirements. We had learned earlier that all four teams had selected Venus as their target planet. The general reasoning appeared to be:

  1. Mercury is difficult to get to. Also, BepiColombo, which launches in 2016 and is targeting Mercury, is carrying multiple spacecraft (though not a lander or a rover) and a comprehensive payload which should advance considerably the state of knowledge about the planet.

  2. Mars' geophysical parameters have well characterised by many missions, mostly from NASA, and a lot of these are ongoing or soon to be launched. The students didn't feel confident enough that they could come up with a unique science question to justify a Mars mission, despite the lecturers that included very strong (sometimes blatantly obvious) hints in this direction.

  3. They applied similar reasoning to Earth as to Mars.

  4. The lecturer who spoke on Venus was far and away the best at selling the planet as an interesting target. He's also one of the tutors and the students really like him - he's engaging, approachable and knowledgeable. Additionally, so little is known about Venus' surface, atmosphere and interior (because it is such a harsh environment) that it is much easier to come up with a unique science mission.


Back to the reviews. The group I reviewed (with two others) had a really good science question and derived set of science requirements. We quizzed them in lots of different ways and their case stood up to the questioning well. They hadn't yet moved through to the next step (observational requirements), which they were supposed to have done, but I believe this was to their benefit as it meant they'd done a much better job of defining their science requirements that it seemed the other teams had done. They didn't need a delta review, although they decided to give themselves one anyway.

It was also fun to watch the dynamics of the team take shape. Their spokesperson, a charming and articulate young woman, knew when to defer to her science and engineering leads. The engineering lead is a shy Irish chap who had explicitly stated earlier that he didn't want to get up and speak. But later in the evening during the delta review (at 11:00 PM), he got up and presented a slide. It was informative and well researched, would help them move from their observational requirements into payload definition, and he did it quite well. We (one of the other roving tutors and I) made sure to compliment him on it afterward, and he positively glowed.

The first implosion took place last night as well. I returned to the Schoolhouse after dinner and moved from room to room, observing and trying to help. I walked into one room at 10:30 PM just as one of the team tutors was leaving with a face like thunder. "Meltdown," he said, "I need a walk." It transpired that the science team were in disarray. They have one particularly combative personality, and she was at the throats of the others (metaphorically). I'm not normally one for this kind of heavy-handed intervention, but it seemed to me to be required. I went in, stood by the table and said, "Hello" in my brightest, chirpiest American. They all stared at me. Confident that I had their attention, I picked up their requirements matrix and began to talk them through it. Occasionally they tried to say, "But we aren't doing X," or "Doing Y is too hard," and I said, no, it is too late to change or add things now (exactly what I'd watched their team tutor tell them an hour earlier). You have to move forward. (I must have said this five times in half an hour.) They had been stalled for too long and were achieving nothing. They needed to stop squabbling over whether they could achieve their science objectives with the instruments they had in mind. The science requirements needed to be turned into observational requirements and given to the engineers. The engineers needed to know which quantities were to be measured, to what precision and for how long. They are the ones who will worry about whether the instruments could achieve this and then whether or no they could afford it (in terms of mass, power, lifetime of the spacecraft, etc).

I have no idea if they actually took all that on board. I'll find out later today. Most of the students are on a hike and will return to the Schoolhouse at 16:00. I really hope I return to find that this team has produced an Observational Requirements matrix, or they're going to be badly behind. The next review (the Preliminary Design Review, which requires payload definition) takes place on Monday afternoon.