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27. July, 2011

One short holiday removed me from Bristol for a few weeks, but now I'm back and more masterful than ever before! That's right, graduation happened and I'm now a fully-fledged Master in Science! feelsgoodman. In the process I earned an award for the best undergraduate project, which likewise feels pretty good (and is probably some kind of justification/reward for having one's supervisor scare one by saying that the paper might actually be too hard and that it would be no dishonour to go and do something easier) Presumably on account of this the department wants to put me forward for the SET awards (some UK award, basically for projects by undergraduates in science, engineering and technology degrees.) This required writing a synopsis of the project, which ended up being a more drawn-out affair than I expected. I knew it wouldn't be easy to describe the most abstract part of mathematics to a judging panel who are of unknown backgrounds — but presumably not all of whom will know anything about set theory and logic. In the end, though, there was some agonising over how (and indeed, whether) to phrase a sketch argument. Still, the shot at an apparently prestigious award and the accompanying finalists' dinner is surely worth it.

Elsewhere in mathematical goings on I've been graciously awarded money to go to a conference in Chicago (with the authors of the paper which formed the real meat of my project, no less) in September. This is even before term starts for my PhD, but this of little concern. Apparently the workshop will be part mathematical, part philosophical, and at least the philosophical side should be penetrable. It'll be my first time in America, too; a weekend of mathematics, philosophy and a new country can only be fun, I hope.

Before that lies a fuzzy region labelled "GERMANY" on my calendar. At some point I will work out what precisely when I'll be where, but so far it remains uncharacteristically unplanned. It'll be my first time travelling to another country alone, although I have people to meet me on the other side. Some time in the intervening weeks I really ought to exercise my German, for I fear otherwise I'll be left, at least for the first few days, a bit bereft. The trip will be exciting for other reasons though; I'll be meeting in person for the first time a few friends that I've known online for a long time. One in particular for about five years!

Since I've arrived back in Bristol we've had our first house-wide cleaning operation, a success which was suitably followed up with a roast dinner. Hopefully we can prevent a return of the horrors of the previous house by sticking to some kind of cleaning schedule. We've also been attempting to make the most of our spacious new quarters by forcing people to sit in them and be entertained. At any rate, we said we were entertaining them and we're sticking to that story.

Until my departure for foreign lands, though I have to somehow keep myself entertained, a challenge compounded by the summer absence of many University friends. If only their parents provided them with PCs capable of playing games for their stays at home!

Moving House

27. June, 2011

Well university did indeed finish and apparently I get to graduate and do a PhD and so on — hurrah! Unfortunately this was not the end of my travails as we then had to move house.

This was exciting since we've moved somewhere much bigger and for a good price. However all the associated packing, transporting, unpacking and cleaning takes its toll.

Packing took a day or so of lazy work, and in the process blocked my nose and set me sneezing for the next ~48 hours; I actually felt like I had a full blown cold. I guess I am allergic to dust or something in it (although I will claim I am allergic to cleaning or work or something) which made the whole process a lot more annoying than it had to be.

Next we had to transport all the stuff over to the new place. This was completed in stages, firstly some car-loads with one housemate's vehicle — just enough to be able to sleep there and not starve. At this point I realised that it was unavoidable that I would at some point end up either at the old or new house with something that I needed only being at the other. This realisation was annoying, but not as annoying as when I ended up in the opposite house to my toothbrush.

The next stage was to transport a massive load of stuff with the help of another housemate's Dad and a hired Transit van. We loaded the thing up fully twice, with the second load being part full of rubbish. Even then we ended up with a fair amount of stuff left; this housemate has a lot of stuff!

By this point we were pretty much moved in; timed perfectly to coincide with the installation of The Internet. A trip back to sell the old washing machine to some miscellaneous people allowed another armful of stuff to be moved over, and before we knew it, the Apocalypse had arrived. That is, it was time to clean the old house.

First a little context: Our house was (and our new flat is) made up of four young men. Our attitudes to cleaning vary from apathy through hate to mild enthusiasm. The sum of this was definitely not enough to complete serious cleaning very often in our small, somewhat grotty student house. Thus a full weekend was allocated for cleaning, and over we went.

The Dust attacked again, but this was nothing compared to the horrors awaiting us in the two bathrooms and one kitchen that the house had yet to throw at us. One person had the task of the main bathroom. Apparent acres of tiles, grouting and sealant awaited him, awash in a bilious sea of black mould. Of course, the black mould doesn't come out, so that just makes the job disheartening rather than difficult. Having not had a really thorough clean for about five years, the walls had seen the swipes of thousands of greasy fingers, which had to be cut through armed only with a jay cloth and a spray bottle.

The worst denizen, though, was in the kitchen. Naturally a kitchen acquires its expected layer of grease-mist over everything. For this, we were prepared. We were, too, prepared for the oven being fairly horrible, but not to the level required to face...

The Substance.

The Substance, as we have dubbed it, must be what happens to... things you cook when you subject them to roughly 180 degrees followed by cooling to room temperature repeatedly. However, it does not share its properties with any food substance or component that we cared to consider.

It is black, smooth and shiny. It is a flexible solid that can be torn with the fingers. It has the consistency of jelly but is somewhat tougher, and will snap into pieces if bent too far. It is clearly neither fat, nor carbon, nor sugar. It could be gelatine, but the tenacity with which it clings to the oven (the best tools we have for extracting it are steel wool scourers and knives) does not support this hypothesis.

Whatever it is, it is fairly disgusting, is not penetrated by regular oven cleaners and takes ages to shift.

Anyway once all that is done I'm roughly free. Still got to finalise the bills for the new place (I am either terrible at life or there is no sensible way to transfer providers at the same time as moving) and reclaim some tax (which requires me to complete a paper form as do some other financial things — Inland Revenue needs to move with the times!) and go on holiday twice, graduating in between.

Who thought finishing work could be so much... work!