Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vacation already

The best part of this job is how little time I have to spend doing it. I just got done teaching for three weeks, and now I'm on vacation until next Thursday. Right now I'm back in Carhaix with my friend Gabby, and we are riding bikes and just chillin. Tomorrow we go to Rennes for three days to be crazy and see what there is to see. Then I get to go to Le Havre to see some old friend, and bring my old friend the Motobecane back to Morlaix. All in all, it should be grand. Have fun at your job or school, sucka.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crab Nebula Pulsar

Fraser has posted my newest article over at UT. It's super-interesting, as it deals with the pulsar situated in the Crab Nebula, which is pretty and also was one of the first ever observed supernovae. First one to make a crab joke in the comments wins the prize of my simultaneous admiration and disgust. Just so you know that this isn't about parasites, here's a cool picture of the nebula:

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Weekend in Carhaix

I was so excited about writing about bikes, that I forgot to say something 'bout the weekend. I went to Carhaix, a tiny town about 60km from here (that's like 40 miles, you American pigs). This was to just get out of town and away from some of the roommates and their associated drama, and also to hang out with some new folks. Gabby and her roommate Astrid live there, and are assistants as well. Gabby is from Kansas, and Astrid from Frankfurt.

We mostly just went to this little park right outside town and walked around and chatted on Saturday. Actually, we went twice. Once just me and Gabby, the second time with Astrid and their neighbors, who have two little adorable French kids. It was sweet. They fed ducks, and I played rugby with the little boy, Johann.

Saturday night was crazy, full of drinking and ridiculousness. This meant that Sunday was mostly a day to recover from the headache, and babysit the two little aforementioned children while their parents were out doing various things. Johann and I built a huge tower out of his blocks, and then he climbed all over me like I was a tree and we made a fort from the couch pillows and some blankets in his house. It was cool.

I got back late last night, made some dinner and went to bed. This morning was awesome with my kids, mostly because I did tongue twisters to help with their pronunciation. Try getting someone who is French to read "Six thick thistle sticks, six thick thistles stick" very fast. You will not regret this, unless they are a very proud, angry, and large person.

The International Fleet Expands

My hands are all dirty under the nails right now, and there's a couple of scratches on my knucks. What does this mean? I've been working on bikes!! I bought two bikes today, one for a friend who lives in a small town and couldn't find one but wanted to, and another for myself. This necessitated a trip on the bus out to the Decathlon, who has a couple of sales every year in which they sell used bikes for really cheap. I then got to ghost-ride both of them home, though I had to walk up my big hill 'cuz it was too steep and the gears just weren't low enough to ride up it.

First, Gabby's bike. Just a Decathlon brand women's-specific mountain frame. Nothing special, but it rolls and it was only 60 euros, a helluva deal. I already fixed most everything wrong with it, but the rear axle is bent, and I don't have the proper tools to finish that up. Maybe the auto-shop in the school where the kids have shop class will have everything, and I won't have to buy cone wrenches, but I'm not holding my breath. I suppose I could beat it up with a mallot and hope it don't break, but she's a friend of mine and I would rather not kill her.

Now mine. It's a Gitane, I think the model is a "Defi" but I'm not really clear on this. I'm not, though, very interested in the frame. There's a ton of rust on the bottom bracket, especially the lugs, and the stem is frozen in place. Some damn Frenchman must have forgotten to grease it.

I am excited, however, about everything else. 105 derailleurs, Campagnolo brakes, a Sugino crank and a Mavic sealed-bearing hub/front wheel (ceramic!). All of these things interest me because I only paid 100 euros for the complete bike, and most if not all of the parts can be swapped over to my Motobecane when I finally get it back. I needed new wheels and a seat, and probably a rear derailleur anyway, so all in all I got a bargain. Even if the crank won't work, everything else should be fine and save me a few bucks in the long run.

So, in other words, I am happy. Happy to be taking apart hubs and lubing cables and analyzing all of the problems associated with bikes that have seen a few miles. I don't have all the tools I wanted (I debated whether or not to bring my crank puller, and thought, "Oh, when will I ever be needing to pull cranks over there."...yeah, I'm gonna have to buy/borrow one now) but it's exhilarating to be working on bikes again. I forgot how much I loved doing it since it hasn't been part of my daily life since the tour. I spent all afternoon checking out every little part and fixing everything, and now it's the evening and I don't know where the time went. Ah, well, I only teach 8 hours this week anyways...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hell is high school students

Oy. Sometimes, teaching is so damn rewarding. You learn a lot, and make a difference in the lives of some really cool kids. Other times, you want to beat them to death with a blunt object. Today was the latter, at least for one class. Let's just say that there are a few of them who will no longer have the privilege of lessons from me.

At least I get to go to another town and hang out with the only other person from the Midwest in this country. That should be fun. I think we are going to a brewery.

In astro news, they've found a really fat black hole that was created by a star. What a heifer. I have some stories in the queue, so check back on Monday for a link or two to those.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Finally, all of that hard work I did clicking...

When I found out that I could help out with an astronomy research project over the internet, I was pretty damn excited. Of course, it's not just me helping out, but thousands of people around the world categorizing elliptical and spiral galaxies on a site called Galaxy Zoo. It's rad: you get images of different galaxies, and classify them based on the type. The project is meant to see if there is a preponderance of elliptical or spiral galaxies in the universe, and if so, which direction most of the spiral galaxies are turning (clockwise or counter-clockwise). As it turns out, our universe is lopsided.

They write in the article:

The survey has revealed that the collections of millions of stars, dust, gas and planets in galaxies prefer to rotate anticlockwise from the viewpoint of an observer on Earth.

Traditionally astronomers have believed that galaxies would spin either clockwise or anti-clockwise in equal proportion. But these observations would seem to suggest that either a mysterious force is acting on them or that the universe is in some way lopsided.

I think this project was an incredible success, and a model for future endeavors in large-scale classification. Also, it was incredibly fun to participate in, as I got a host of cool galaxy images to download onto my computer for my screensaver.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Tubes and Skepticism

Finally, I have internet at my school using my own computer! This means I can do lots of things that I couldn't before, like download stuff and talk to friends over the internet. And type on a keyboard that is not azerty, which makes me very happy. I will also be able to write more here, which hopefully will make other people happy. Or very, very bored.

In any case, I wanted to say a quick little something about skepticism. Kathleen had a nice post on how it relates to faith over at her blog, so go there to read a little more.

As you may or may not have noticed, many of the links over there on the left hand side of this blog are to skeptically or scientifically related sites. This is because I believe in what skepticism has to say about the reality of this universe we live in, and should inform (but not dictate) how we come upon our conclusions of what is true and real.

Skepticism is more than what many believe it to be. It is not about nay-saying everything, or closing your mind to possibilities that lie outside the realm of science and empiricism. No, it is none of these things. Rather, skepticism merely says that everything should have at least a modicum of evidence for it. Skeptics want proof, and in the absence of that, a reasonable explanation for why proof is absent but possibly forthcoming. That's it, really. Skeptics need to be open-minded, for if they aren't then they cannot be considered to fall under the paradigm of skepticism.

The scientific method has given us such a fantastic way in which to learn about the world around us, and using the tools of this method to parse out what is true and false in the claims that people make on an everyday basis only helps to enrich our understanding. The verity of all suppositions about reality is not something to be taken lightly. Without it, we are lost, as separating truth from untruth is about all we gots when it comes to groping our way through the darkness that envelops the human experience.

I have much more to say on this, but am very tired from teaching 20-year olds about nuclear energy policy, and having them teach me about rugby. I'll post two links to a comic I discovered just today about skepticism, and call it an evening.

I wish unicorns really did deliver our mail.

This second one pokes fun at skeptics themselves and how their sometimes too-strict adherence to logic can get them into trouble. Or death. Mostly trouble, though.

I am now free to go drink some wine and eat a bunch of french fries. I am not a nutritional role mode sometimes.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bikes are spiritual things

I haven't been on a bike ride in like 3 weeks, and my roommate finally bought one the other day. This means, of course, that I am going to steal it every once in a while to ride until the Motobecane is back in action. Ah, the Motobecane... Here's a picture in case you have forgotten that it is the embodiment of beauty and form.

I'll get that in a couple of weeks. Until then it is department store bike-riding, which isn't so much fun if the bike sucks ass and drops the chain when you try to go up stairs. Ok, so they were small stairs. And, yeah, perhaps I shouldn't be taking my roommate's bike up sets of stairs, but someone had to break it in a little and stretch out the cables/rims/frame, right? I'm glad he doesn't read this.

I got to see a live production of Waiting for Godot the other night. It was difficult to understand because it was in French, and they were basically screaming and jumping around all of the time; however, it was absolutely amazing. The actors were phenomenal, and they changed a few things from the original that actually improved greatly on some of the scenes. For example, there is a part where Didi is talking to the small boy that visits them. In the original, both he and Estragon see and speak with the boy, rough him up for answers, etc. In this play, it is only Didi, and the boy rode an old 3-speed bicycle around the stage, so it was as if he was sort of ethereal and dreamlike, his voice changing places the dark of the night. I'm re-reading the play (in English, sadly), and realize how difficult the language is, so don't feel so bad.

With the language, really, it's a roller-coaster. I talked to a friend over the phone the other night, and had a hard time understanding (being on the phone in a foreign language is always über-difficult). Then, last night I went to a talk on supernovae by a professor at the Institut d'astrophysique de Paris, and basically understood every single word that he said. This was fun, because I just started a story on work by some other researchers from the same institute, so got to get a flavor for what is coming out of there.

My students are still pretty fun. I've gotten to meet all of them finally, and am happy with what I'm going to be doing with them.

Another assistant is coming over to Morlaix to rock the house tomorrow night, so the weekend looks good. There's also another talk on sustainable development on Sunday, and the possibility of a jazz show. Where see if those are as interesting as learning about nuclear processes inside stars...

New Article in Universe Today

Here's an article I did about the jets of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons. Below is the coolest picture eva of Enceladus hovering above Saturn's rings. If you look real close you can see a faint haze on the bottom of Enceladus - that's the jets. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mmmm....biscuits and gravy

Being vegan, I rarely have the chance to enjoy the hearty succulence that is biscuits and gravy, mostly because the constituents are sausage and cream, two things that a vegan enjoys not. There is, however, and oasis of biscuits and gravy for vegans to be found at the wonderful Seward Café, located in that city of cities, Minneapolis. Here is a picture of me eating too much of said dish, courtesy of my friend Rachael B.

And here is a picture of Ms. B. herself overpartaking.

She may very well kill me for posting this picture of her making a horrible face. Ah well, such is the price one pays for blogging.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Finally in France

So, here I am again in France. This after heading to Minneapolis to spend a few days with my friend Rachel there. We rode bikes and drank PBR, and just kinda soaked in the vibe that Minneapolis gives off. I also got to have dinner with my friend from back in the Time for Peace days, Omar. We had sparkling conversation as always.

I got to the airport early, and met a guy that was going to Iceland (I flew with Icelandair, so had an hour layover there). He lives there, and when I go back at the end of my time here in France, he said he would take me around Reykjavik. After a long, long flight that went through Iceland - which is apparently populated by supermodels of both sexes - I arrived in Paris, which, alas, is only populated by Parisians. I took the train from Charles de Gaulle to another station, sat around with all of my crap for a couple of hours and then got on a train to here.

By the time I got to Morlaix, I'd been up for something like 30 hours and was surprised that I could still understand and speak French decently enough with the teacher that picked me up at the train station. She showed me my room, and was so kind as to have already purchased some food for me to eat the next morning.

I won't go into detail about every day since then, but here's a summary of what it's like in Morlaix, at Lycée Tristan Corbière: I live with two other guys, one from Louisiana, the other from Barcelona. We get along beautifully, and they are great roomates. The guy from Barcelona is teaching us a little Catalan, and we will all be sitting in on classes in Breizh, which is a Celtic language that a lot of people in Brittany speak. There also is another assistant from Nova Scotia, so we make fun of her accent and the way she says "eh" all of the time. She happens to be Lebanese as well as Canadian, so I now have the chance again to practice a little Arabic if I'm not lazy.

The apartment is pretty rad this time 'round. Though Evan (the Louisiana guy) lives in the living room, Josep and I have our own rooms. We have a stove!! A real one with an oven!! And a whole kitchen!! All of these things are luxurious compared to my cell last time with the one hotplate. The school is a bit old and rundown, but all of the teachers are über-nice and welcoming. We've had a couple of little meet and greet lunches already, and we only start teaching on Monday. The students, as compared to last time, are a little lower in their level of English, but this is only because this is a school that specializes in technical stuff, rather than the humanities. This means I will have to speak slower and work harder, but I think I can handle it.

As with last time, the paperwork is a pain in the ass. I at least already had a bank account, and just used my phone from last time, too. But all of the other stuff has been a nightmare, with a lot of different answers from different people and running around and waiting and photocopying my passport a zillion times.

The region is nice, though always wet. It's verdant, and kinda gray, but being right by the ocean will make the winter pretty warm. I'll have more to write when my head is not spinning from being sick (I think I have the flu or a cold or something...). But wanted to let all two people that read this that I am alive, and happy to be back once again in the land of plentiful wine and baguettes.