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4 November 1996 Journal Entry 4 November 1996

Dear All my friends out there in the world,

Greetings once again from Cambridge, England. Thanks to all who forwarded me their new addresses and email nodes.

I type you from the dark, windy, orange and golden leaf covered grounds of Cambridge where I am starting my third year into the PhD, that long adventure most of you are currently undertaking, or have already, or might dream of doing someday. The nights are long and dark and heaven for astronomers, if it wasn't for those darn rain clouds!

As you all have known I am recuperating from a back injury from February last. It has been a long recovery and continues; but rest assured, I will heal 100%, with patience, time, exercise and optimism (working on the latter!). I did manage to escape Cambridge for 7 glorious days in early September with my boyfriend Doug to Holland, but the weather (rain) did follow me. Let me tell you about our adventures...

When you think of Holland, what comes to mind? Windmills, canals and wooden shoes, right? Well, Doug and I saw them all: plenty of windmills (man, was it windy!); lots of water (the land was AMAZINGLY flat and very verdent and loads of cows grazed everywhere) and many canals with quite large boats traveling up and down; and some Dutch trodding about in their wooden shoes (quite smart footwear because it was surely muddy there by all the canals).

The Dutch have an amazing public transportation system. Doug and I got a train pass that would last us the week, unlimited travel. It was great! You could travel from the northernmost part of the whole country (about the size of Maine) to the southernmost tip in less than 3 hours. We hopped a train down to Dordrecht (south) and then a boat to Kinderdijk where we saw some 20 odd windmills in action. It was quite the sight. Watching the Dutch assemble the sails was very exciting. The purpose of the windmills was to help drain the waterways, since the area was often flooding. There are many windmills about in Holland, but most are defunct and replaced by mechanical pumps. They are indeed wonderful examples of physics in action with their gears, balance mechanisms, and aerodynamics.

Doug at Kinderdijk. It was one windy wet day in Holland!

We camped our days in Holland. That was a great experience for me (and don't worry, Doug took good care of me. He made sure I didn't do anything foolish and my back was fine!). It was surely cold and wet! But nonetheless, perhaps the best way to see the country. We took advantage of a diet of rich Dutch cheese and very very good bread.

Doug and his favourite blue tent. I call it the slug tent. Here you see it pitched near a corn field near Valkenburg.

Having a personal interest in castles, I was ever so eager to check out what the Dutch had. We hopped a train down to the southernmost tip (on the Belgium and German border) to Valkenburg (great name, eh?) to visit a ruined castle. It was okay, but definitely overrated in the tour book. Based on some suggestions Doug received from Dutch colleagues (he was at a conference the week before in Gronigen), we set out to conquer Muidernslot and Slot Lovestein up north. (Slot means “castle” in Dutch. Oh, I did try out some German there but it definitely quite different than Dutch, but the Dutch people were very nice and friendly and spoke English quite well). Before we left Valkenberg, we took in the waffles and pankokeon (pancakes). My, what a sweet tooth these Dutch have!

The ruins of Valkenburh castle.

Muidernslot was incredible (located up near Utrecht, middle north of country), with its imposing crenals, merlons, and machiolations and drawbridge over a moat. Towering castle walls. To me, it looked more like the German castles you see in illustrations in fairy tales, and quite different from the English and Scottish castles I have seen. In fact, castles in Holland served more as manor houses for Governors or officers of the state, rarely having need for dungeons and defenses. Still beautiful nonetheless. Muidernslot is in the town of Muidern which is very beautiful, with a swing bridge, a lock, and many houses with very colourful shutters along narrow brick streets.

Slot Lovestein (a bit south of Muidern) was also quite neat! It was located in Poiteroyen and not in any of our tour books. We had an adventure trying to located it. It was surrounded completely by water. You needed to take a ferry out to it. Had an impressive center court with very tall castle walls (castle walls are about 1-2 meters thick; some walls were really 2 meters (>6feet) thick! It was amazing!). It had been used mainly for tolls for ships coming in, since it sat at the base of two rivers.

Slot Lovestein.
With three castles conquered, windmills explored, and waffles eaten, Doug and I returned to our normal lifestyles, he to Wyoming, and I to Cambridge. Ever since then I am working steadily debugging my near infrared detectors and planning the first observing run with our spectrograph, ready to see first light in Nov 1997 in Hawaii.

We had a total lunar eclipse at 330am on September 27th and a 52percent solar eclipse on the 12th of October. Both were very cool! We will have a total solar eclipse in August 1999 (Cornwall and north of France). I plan to RETURN (oh, I do hope I am still not here!...)

This year is going to be extremely busy because our spectrograph is being assembled and testing. I cannot wait! My PhD has been slow for too long now! Because my injury caused my work to be disjointed, I am going to be here longer than I expected, but there are many pros to this. I will see COHSI on the telescope more than once and get to do some science with her. Finally I am going to see a project from its design phase, through its construction to its action. I am learning a great deal. The only drawback is that I am very worried about funding. I am applying for money now but everything is always a gamble. At least it is very good practice for grant writing!

Oh, I mentioned in my last email I was doing tests on my dewar and some asked me what was a dewar... Well, a dewar is like a thermos bottle really. Mine is a cylindrical container (some are box shaped but most are cylindrical) about 1.5 feet tall, with a diameter of about 10 inches. It has two parts: an inner cylinder inside a larger cylinder. The inner one will hold the cryogen. In my case, it is liquid nitrogen (LN2). It is thermally isolated from the outer cylinder though a vacuum (you pump on it; we use a turbopump in our lab, man is it noisy!). You place your detector in aluminum mounts and bolt it to the inner cylinder so that it gets cold (hopefully down to liquid nitrogen temperatures). To keep these mounts cold, they are surrounded by highly reflective shields to reduce heat loss by radiation. I am getting my NICMOS detectors down to LN2 temperatures with all sorts of cold straps made from copper, low conductivity electrical wires, and many shields. I am now determining their characteristics, such as noise, dark current, gain and linearity. We will be using one of our detectors for optical alignment in the near future.

I try to keep busy, even if I still need to rest my back a great deal (doc says I need to rest more and not work that much! Imagine me resting!!! Yipes! But I am heeding his advice, cause I do feel better if I take the time to stretch, relax, exercise, and sleep. I still live most of my days in constant pain, but my mobility and strength are improving each day.). I joined a liturgical folk group and play flute for Sunday mass at the town church. I read a great deal and have been doing a lot of artwork since I need to be sedentary a great deal. I do miss sports and cannot wait for the warmer weather to come. With the spring, I should be 100% well and back to being crazy. I have a new bike now, but still am unable to ride it. Her name is Poliahu, after the snow goddess of Mauna Kea, sister to Pele (fire goddess of Mauna Loa). She is icy blue in colour and I had some alterations made to her to fit a healing back. I am beginning to swim again as well.

I am going to be states-side from December 22-January 8, inclusive. For all those in the States, I wish you a Happy Election Day and Thanksgiving in advance. For all those in the United Kingdom, happy Guy Fawkes Day! Long live the great bonfires! I hope my email finds you all well and please drop me a line with your latest adventures, address changes, etc...

As always,

PS My family is a big Yankees fan. World champs! Yeah! Break out the rootbeer floats! How I have missed baseball once again by living here! *sigh* But we get Babylon 5 a season ahead of you all. New ST:TNG movie opens here 13th of December I hear (cannot wait), but I promised someone special I'd see it in NJ with him when I fly home. You don't know what sort of sacrifice that is to me!!!! *smile*