We started on our anniversary day 28th March. It seemed that a lot of equipment was delivered to GSU that should really have gone to the telescope builders in Tucson Az. Also, a bunch of parts were ready for the OPLE carts which needed to go to JPL. Hal thought it would be cheaper and safer if one of us got a truck and drove the stuff ourselves. I agreed and quickly volunteered to go, taking my trusty and beautiful wife with me as co-pilot and navigator.
So on the morning of Friday 28th, Good Friday and as I say our 5th year as married, we picked up a Ryder truck (15', the only one they had) and went back home to load our stuff. Mauricio, our neighbor, also had a rental truck as they (he and his wife Jenny) had bought a house and, unfortunately for us, were moving. We decided that Mauricio's was bigger.
I then had a somewhat nervous drive to work, and an even more nervous backing up into the General Class Room loading dock, ably assisted by Doug Gies our resident Canadian and all around good bloke. I took this opportunity to explain to Sallie that this was the way to guide a truck driver. Earlier, you see, when we stopped to buy a padlock for the truck she had helped me back up by standing exactly behind the truck where I couldn't see her and saying useful things like 'Yep'. She was not amused.
With the equipment from the GCB, we moved on to a less nervous (I was starting to get cocky) backing up into the workshop loading bay for more parts, ably packed and labeled by Charles our head workshop guy. Lewis was sent to Woolworth for rope and the truck was packed and ready to go with only a minor panic by Sandy the business manager who is still getting over her German heritage.
So it was through downtown, left at Spring street and onto the I20 West. Theo is getting more and more confident in his ability to drive the truck and Sallie's directions work perfectly. It was now about 12 and we were getting hungry so we stopped about 40min down the road and attempted to go to a Waffle House (where only the best travelers eat). While turning right (the easiest kind of turn) Theo's cocky attitude had it's effect...... all we heard was the screeeeeeeeching of brakes. I had failed to see a car coming at high speed towards us. Fortunately he didn't hit us, although the chap was quite upset, stopped and got out of his car. I apologized and hoped that would be all. With the BOOM THWACK BOOM THWACK noise heading off in the distance I realized all was indeed well, except for my confidence in my driving skills. So we stopped on the right hand side of the road at a Wendy's and not at the Waffle House. Oh well, a hamburger will do.
With no further mishaps we proceeded along the I20 west. With Doug's `road calculator' (a machine that will tell you where the nearest Waffle House is, amongst other things like Gas stations) we drove for several hours, through Alabama, until we reached, Tuscaloosa, our first scheduled stop. Since it was only 3.30pm we decided to forget the schedule and go on. We went on into Mississippi and stopped in Meridian, where we our now comfortably sitting in an Holiday Inn and ready for dinner. Fortunately there is a restaurant across the road and we are about to try it out. It's an `Applebies', yet another chain food outlet (the most common form in these parts) but it does have a bar.
Thus endeth the Theo part of the first day of this travel log. And Sallie doth take over. I've walked for 40 minutes because my jeans are really tight - my back's just fine. The consumption tally is 1 piece toast, p'butter & jam each; hc for me and java for T; brekky bar each; hamburger & half fries each, coke for T and coffee for me; 3 pkts toasties mostly eaten by me plus I had another brekky bar; at Applebies we had two beers each, T had steak & veggies, I had popcorn shrimp and fries, T had a double scotch on the rocks and I had a classic marguerita; we ended up with a couple of glasses of wine; T had maybe a dozen fags. All in all, a happy anniversary.
The `spotto' count today was 35. We have a habit of counting the cars left on the side of the road or stopped by the police. It's partly a game and partly to remind ourselves never to be a spotto ourselves.
Well we are now in Weatherford Texas, some 30-40 miles west of Fort Worth, which is itself about 30-40 miles west of Dallas. It was a long driving day but we expect bad weather tomorrow and so managed to get ahead of the schedule. Mississippi was rather pleasant and green, although the roads are badly maintained (but not as bad as Alabama). The road conditions are an excellent indication of the economic strength of a state. If the Americans are not properly maintaining the roads it means they haven't the money. They care too much about the highways to not fix them if they can.
A few hours of driving saw us passing into Louisiana, another poorish state judging by the roads. To do so we actually drove over the Mississippi, which is as rumor had it a very large river, covered in boats, all commercial by the look of them. The area seemed to immediately become swampy and damp. Still very green though.
We stopped for lunch at a `Stuckies' as found by our handy road calculator. Sallie likes these places as they have 'divinity' a wicked sugar concoction. The menu was just as healthy, so I had chicken which was crumbed and fried of course and Sallie had the BLT. It was in a small place and the people were quiet but friendly. We don't notice many strange looks these days, we know a lot of the right things to say. I'm afraid that unless we hunt hard and are willing to drive the truck into a town (which I am not) this is the sort of stuff we'll be eating for the next little while.
Things got drier and less hilly as time went on until we entered Texas. The road improved as we crossed the border as did the fuel prices. I guess there is little more money and oil in Texas. These phenomenon may even be related! As we approached Dallas the country- side got flatter and duller, but there are many pretty flowers to be seen. We finally passed Dallas (we have decide not to stay in the large towns) and passed Fort Worth to find this strange little location in Eastern Texas.
When we checked in we asked about food. She told us to drive into town. We then asked if there wasn't anything within walking distance, which was greeted with one of the few strange looks we have had recently. She said it was 'quite a walk' to the Grandies down the way which had 'everything'. After walking the five minutes across the interstate (no foot path of course) we found said place of pourveyance which did have 'everything'..... crumbed and fried of course. And no wine, beer or anything like that. OK, we settled for what was there, which wasn't so bad if you ordered veggies.
On our walk back we decided to get some beer at the service station (one of the great things about America is you can buy beer almost anywhere). This was when we discovered that, although Texas has no 'Blue Laws' (laws forbidding the sale of alcohol on Sunday) we find ourselves in a dry county. Thank goodness for the half bottle of wine we had left over. It is now about 730 and we are both very tired. An early start tomorrow and a forecast for a windy and stormy day. YE HA!
The spotto count today was 61. It seems there is one every ten miles or so.
Sal here: we've driven over 500 miles in 9hrs & 50min and just over an hour in rest stops - as you can see I'm the keeper of the log. Besides the lunch we had coffee and muffins, corn flakes and toast for brekky. We have metamucil each morning and eat all our veggies and drink a couple of bottles of water a day but feel we need more fruit "more fruit, more fruit!" I haven't driven yet because Theo is such a good long distance driver but from here on in it's going to be plains followed by scrub followed by desert and I better do my share or Theo is going to get very bored. We will try and make that west Texan town of El Paso by tomorrow evening - a 9hr drive apparently. If we do we'll be a day ahead of schedule and we won't have to rush around in Tucson. 'Till tomorrow.
Well here we are in Van Horn, Texas March, 31st after having driven 461.9 miles in 8 hours. We are keeping an actual truckers log book because our ex-ex-neighbor Mauricio hauled some of his forms to Florida and was fined $400 for not keeping a proper log. Of course Theo and I would have done it anyway as that's the kind of retentives we are.
We got a good early start at 7am and had the usual continental brekky but an hour down the road we had the fullest bladders in Texas and had to stop for a second breakfast of "biscuits" and eggs (hobbits would approve). For lunch we went to a "Cowboys" restaurant and Theo had a steak and I had a BLT and toothpicks which are onions and jalapenos - you guessed it - crumbed and fried. Desperate for a change we had an apple for arvo tea and Mexican for tea. It is, however, Easter Sunday and all the decent restaurants were closed and we had our Mexican in a truck-stop with the wierdest beans we'd ever had - tasteless and runny. Just before we ate I suddenly felt really ill in the tum (but what's new?) We surmised that the water we have been diligently drinking is probably as hard on our systems as it is on our taste buds. I have to stop being so cheap and buy bottled water.
We met an interesting character today while we were admiring some of his recycled art on the side of the road. We loved it and would have jumped at it had we actually been on our way to live in California. As it is we will be catching a plane back to Atlanta and a train/bus home so we have to travel light.
Theo here again. We went through a few changes in scenery today. The start of Texas was pretty much like Mississippi, green with rolling soft hills and no shortage of water. As we traveled west the green faded slowly, as did the hills. After you pass Dallas you reach the scrub and flat lands. The plains seem to go on forever, and are as you would expect pock marked with oil pumping machines. We attempted to take some photos as we went along, I hope some turn out.
As we went further and further west things got flatter and drier and the scrub eventually gave way to, well nothing really, just more oil pumps. The roads are insanely straight and it just seemed to go on for ever. As we approached Van Horn (actually I think it is meant to be Van Hoorn, but never mind) we could see the beginnings of the mountains, beyond which I think it is desert until we reach the California coast. I clocked over thirty miles with the mountains in the background and the road absolutely straight. Must have been retired railroad engineers that built this road. Tomorrow we plan to go 'down to the west Texas town of El Paso' and on to Tucson to make the first delivery.
Sallie did her first bit of driving today. Of course she was a bit nervous, never having driven a truck or on an interstate before but she did just fine. The first try was tense but by her second time behind the wheel she was singing and hooning along at 60MPH (the top speed of the vehicle).
Van Horn is a dead little town, although as Sallie said we have met some interesting and rather nice people. Being Australian sure seems to help, we are a bit of a novelty here and can easily amuse people and put them at ease. There is one long main street along which people drive at about 15MPH, checking each other out. It is obvious that there is little else to do. The scenery is quite amazing. I am a bit disappointed that it is cloudy as there should be an excellent view of the comet Hale Bop otherwise, and maybe even the UFO behind it...... although we have not yet been tempted to join them by killing ourselves, as others seem to do.
The news (when we can get a radio station, there was a good two hours today when we could not get any radio at all) is full of that terrible story, and they are continually trying to work out 'why they did it'. We find this a bit odd as they made it very clear why they did it: to move on to the next level of consciousness and join the alien ship. Stupid buggers. At least they did not take anyone unwilling with them, nor travel door to door on bicycles trying to convince others to join them.
The spotto count was an even dozen! This is way down on the last two days. We have two theories:
1. There is a lot less traffic. 2. Texans maintain their cars better as it is a lot more serious if you get stranded in the middle of nowhere. 3. There is no third theory.
I think it is a bit of both.
Well it's good night from me and good night from her. We both retire to a bottle of Chardoney (this is not a dry county) and some tacky murder mysteries, to which we both seem to have become enamoured. Funny how tails of death can be so relaxing.......
Oh yes we bought some postcards, and even wrote something on them. Maybe we'll mail them tomorrow.
Well I mailed one of them......
Today went smoothly. We passed through two truck checking stations, which also went just fine, although mostly I think because the people were not quite sure what to make of us and so waved us on through. We have passed a number of truck weighing points before (at each boarder really) and went in just to be on the safe side. In Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas they paid us no mind, in fact they reacted like they were surprised that we bothered. In Arizona and New Mexico. however, they were much more serious. We were asked what we were carrying and if it was commercial (we are keeping a proper drivers log on the off chance they want to see it, Mauricio once got fined $400 for not having one you see). I told them the truck was full of telescope parts for Mount Wilson CA and that it was not commercial as I was from the University and simply driving the parts there. On both occasions I got a blank stare, a short pause and a `move on, have a nice day'. No problem.
We had breakfast at the hotel again and it was, not surprisingly, exactly the same as we were in the same flavor of hotel. Tonight we are in a different brand and the breakfast may be slightly different, although I doubt it. At least this hotel has in-house movies, including one called 'sorority girls go crazy' or something, which we may just miss. There's also a Star Treck movie which we may not miss, depends how we feel.
Sallie did a lot more driving today and has become quite proficient at it, so much so that I had a bit of a snooze. The scenery became drier and more mountainous, typical western stuff. You know what I mean, dry dusty plains and rocky outcrops here and there. The elevation slowly increases until we were some 4000 feet up. The roads continued to be straight, straight and more straight. Dull driving but as the traffic was low it was just fine.
Lunch was late but good. We first tried to stop at a 'family' restaurant at the appropriate time (taking into account the fact that we crossed the time zone), but we had to get the truck under a bridge that I just wasn't game to try to drive under. So we had to travel on for another 50 miles or so, to a town called Lordsborough, were we found a fine 'TexMex' type place, much better than last nights dinner. Thence onward into New Mexico and a tourist trap type shop, where we bought some nicknacks, including a birthday present for Helga.
We still decided we liked New Mexico, even if we were in the southern and low populated area. It's very pretty, open skies large rocky mountains all around (but far away) and desert. There were also many fields of mesquite trees, which we presume are for barbecues, and they all appeared dead, but in neat little rows. We failed to understand that but it did look interesting.
Arizona was much the same only more like what you've seen in the western movies, many places for posses to create ambushes and such like. We even passed Tombstone. After a few stops for gas and rest-stops we arrived in Tucson, which so far has impressed us little. I hope we are simply in the wrong part of town but it seems depressed and poor and somewhat run down and dirty. Having checked in we again ask for a store nearby that we could walk to only to be told that we had better drive as it was all the way at the next traffic light. We walked, bought a bottle of wine and had a mediocre meal at a Denies, the local Mexican type places all being closed. We long for better food, but we are on the road and are simply not willing to drag the truck around looking for something better. I'll cook for us when we reach LA and are living in the house on the mountain. Lot's of steamed veggies for us methinks.
Having settled in for the night we have realized we are way ahead of schedule but will soldier on. We could sight see but the truck is a bit of a mill stone, especially considering it has about $200000 worth of stuff in the back. We'll spend the rest of our time in LA checking the place out as a potential place to live. Maybe even go to Disney Land, although I do have plenty of proper work things to do should the mood take me, and I guess it will have to. Tomorrow we deliver some stuff to M3, the telescope engineering company, and drive on towards Tucomcarie LA, Wednesday lunchtime we should be on the mountain.
The spotto count today was 13, a bit more than yesterday, although not a patch on the eastern side of our trip. No new theory to explain it however.
The most desolate terrain we have encountered yet, and furthermore the longest patches of straight road. After the standard breakfast (yes, this hotel did have identical food to the others, and a much larger bill, possibly due to the clever TV stuff we never used). The desert parts were very pretty though.
We left the hotel about 8am and went straight to the telescope building people M3, only a few miles away. There we met Ed, a very nice engineer, who helped us unload the stuff from the truck. We had a bit of a time making sure we had all the right stuff at the right place, but Sallie came through with her list and pen and all was right with the world. I then used some rope and some BFI to ensure the remaining equipment was OK and we were ready to go by about 930. Ed showed us how to get to Kitt Peak observatory, and told us that the back road way there was much more scenic than the interstate. So off we went bravely to Kitt Peak.
The road was a two lane badly maintained thing but quite drivable and at about 11.30 we got to the top of the mountain. It was covered in telescope domes, as all the posters I have seen show, and we went to the visitor center and bought a T-shirt and some more postcards. We thought briefly about making the climb to the 4m telescope, but Sallie's back was playing up and I have seen enough telescopes now (yeeech, what a poser!) so we decided to move on. So back down the mountain in low gear it was and off towards the south on our scenic route.
Scenic it was, cacti everywhere, long stretches of desert and mountains breaking the horizon. Pleasant driving it was not, high wind and not the best of roads. I think we had three corners before we reached a small town some 30 miles south called Sells where we stopped for lunch in a small and run down looking cafe. There we had the best food of the trip, Mexican, well cooked and cheap too. Yum. Sallie took over behind the wheel for about an hour but didn't like the winds (not from the beans you fools) and so I took over.
Nice as the scenery was we started to long for the interstate where our trip calculator could help us find waffle houses and so on. We past through a mining town (Copper, open cut) and finally, after another one or two bends in the road, headed back north towards our beloved interstate. The cactus forests were still all around us but I had to concentrate on keeping the truck on the road against the wind.
We reached I-8 (which goes west to the coast and up towards LA) but decided to continue towards I-10 so we wouldn't have to drive through downtown LA to get to the mountain. We first stopped at a McDonald's for some coffee where we came across an interesting encounter between a German family and the, not terribly fast, people behind the counter. Many discussions were going on in German about what the menu meant and how it all worked. They found the salad dressing part especially confusing. This bit I had no complaint about, as in the US you can never order a simple salad but must choose from a plethora of runny stuff to go over the top with useful names like 'Ranch' and 'Italian'. What puzzled me was why they were having so much trouble with the menu. I have been to Germany and they have McDonald's there, and the menu is exactly the same. Even given the fact that they had never been into one, there are pictures on the menu to show you what was what. Strange indeed, and it took an awfully long time. Still I wanted coffee and politely waited, eavesdropping on the shards of conversation I could understand. It was not very interesting but one will do anything to pass the time in a food line eh?
Armed with coffee and a desire to get on the road again we headed up the 85 (a state road) towards the 10 (a federal road) in order to head west towards California. All went well except the wind was increasing as was the traffic and the madmen behind the wheel, intent on risking their lives and ours in order to pass us and then slow down. One interesting thing that happened here was passing through a dust storm. Visibility suddenly reduced to near zero and the truck was buffeted about by the wind (both internal and external, yes.... the beans again). We got through it OK and reached the I-10 and started off west. It was by this time about 330pm and we were ready to find a place to stay for the night. Unfortunately there was nothing for another 100 miles or so. Never mind, we thought, let's keep going.
This was the most desolate part of the country we have seen. Nothing. No one. Only the long straight interstate (this time I clocked 40 miles of dead straight driving, although the mountains in front of the sun were a lovely target). The winds were even worse, although the road was much better and the trucks well behaved. After a brief pee stop we continued until we reached the boarder, having passed through Tonopah, and stopped for gas. The woman at the gas station asked about the wind and how many accidents there were. 'None' I replied and she seemed surprised. We went on into California and through the check point. Once again the telescope story made them wish us a nice day and wave us through until we reached Blithe, where we are now, safe and warm in our hotel room. We went to the local Chinese for a lovely meal (special fried rice and Pad Tai) and have the obligatory bottle of wine. So far we have covered over 2100 miles, an average of some 420 miles per day.
The spotto count today was 3! There was no less traffic than Texas, but judging by the territory you would REALLY not want to get stuck in these parts. Also I think if you stayed too long by the side of the road the buzzards would eat you and your car. Hmmmm, a new theory emerges. The best kind too, one for which you must disappear in order to prove it.
Sal here, typing from bed, no less. My back is starting to get sore a bit now as I really can't bear to walk for 45' after we've driven all day. Also the local water was making us sick so we stopped the metamucil and we're getting blocked up. I think I can get away with one more day and then detailed attention must be paid to our well-being when we're safely ensconced on the mountain top.
As Theo said I was quite unnerved by driving that van in high winds on badly ridged roads. I must say, I am looking forward to driving an actual car, even on Los Angeles freeways.
OK all bets are off on the boring long straight road stuff, the last few hundred miles before reaching LA were phenominally dry and dull: 'Death valley days straight ahead!'. Having gotten up a bit later than usual (but still early enough, about 7am) and having the usual breakfast we headed off west for the final leg of the journey. The first thing we saw was a large sign with yellow flashing lights saying 'High Winds Expected, Travel for Light Trucks Not Recommended'. Great I thought, here we go. Noone else seemed to pay any attention and so we did the sheep thing and kept going.
The winds were indeed very high and gusty, so I drove rather slowly and carefully, being passed by any number of temporary Americans. It was not too bad actually but it was the worst part of the driving of the entire trip. The last stretch, as I said above, is complete desolation. 100 miles of desert, we even went through a place called 'Desert Center' where they were using a crane to forcibly place palm trees in little triangles. Unfortunately it was clear that the poor things were dying as fast as they were being put in.
There were few towns, and many more casinos. The Indians put them up as money spinners (good luck to them) as they are not required to follow all the state laws on their own land. One place was called the 'Casino Moron go', a particularly good name for a casino we thought. Apart from this, all we saw were the mountains in the distance, dust and the occasional sign reading 'State Prison Area: Do Not Pick Up Hitch Hikers'. Needless to say there were no hitch hikers and we wouldn't pick them up anyway. The excitement came when we passed through Tombstone and Tonapah, but we didn't stop, the smell of LA and the ocean were upon us.
Once we got into the mountains things started to improve, becoming greener and softer. The road started to have bends in it too so the driving improved. The wind also died down a little. We got to San Bernadino by about 1230 so we stopped for lunch at a small Chinese place just off the highway, where we also shopped for some food for tonight and fueled up. The last leg was relatively easy, although the LA traffic can be a bit scary. Fortunately I was now in familiar territory and know how to get along on LA roads, at least some of them anyway. As Sallie snoozed away I went west on the I-10, onto the 2-10 and finally onto the Angeles Crest Highway, the road going up the mountain to the observatory.
As usual No one here seemed to be expecting us, nor did they realize I had a truck of stuff for them to store. Bob Cadman (the mountain site manager), finally did appear and we put the boxes into the 60" telescope dome loading area. This telescope is little used nowadays and so it's loading bay made a neat storage facility. I noticed it was already being used as such. We packed the truck near the 100" dome and moved into the Kapteyn House, our little residence for the next few days.
As we walked towards the house, we past the Berkeley ISI group who were cleaning up their mirrors. ISI is an infra-red heterodyne interferometry group lead by Charles Townes, Nobel laureate and inventor of the laser. I only mention this because of the method they were using to clean their mirrors: A hose, a sponge and a hair drier. Unusual technique to say the least. There was Charles, in his traditional terry toweling hat, supervising and pushing water off the mirror mount. Yes, of course I took a picture.
The spotto count today was an even 20, although 17 of these were in the LA area. There were no spades at all along the worst of the desert stuff, which is probably a good thing as I guess it would be quite dangerous. Of course, we know its quite dangerous to stop on an LA freeway too, but usually only at night and in an expensive sports car. Well here endeth the main part of the trip log. I will attempt to write more concerning our stay here in LA, and a little about the observing run next week, although there's not lot to say about observing really.
Sal here: because we ate better food yesterday our systems thanked us by returning to regularity. My stomach had puffed up so much I thought I must have put on 10 lbs but after my constitutional this morning I was quite my old self. The Chinese meal today differed from the one yesterday in the noticeable reduction of salt and fat content, I guess because we are now in health conscious LA and we could hardly eat any of it, I think because we were so close to our destination and felt a great need to end our journey.
The lovely Bob Cadman told us that it might snow tonight. We are not looking forward to the trip down the mountain tomorrow if it does. We are not expected at JPL till after 11 tomorrow because they need to get some clearance for me, it being a NASA installation, so we're hoping that will be all the time the sun needs to melt any snow on the treacherous twists of the Mt Wilson road.
Right now we are sitting in the Kapteyn, sipping champagne and quaffing down the vast view of La La Land below us. Because of the wind which was so treacherous to us today the city of Los Angeles is for once with out its blanket of smog. My theory is that if as many people that could telecommute to work via the net did, then the freeways might not be so hairy and the air might not be so thick. We heard on the news today that special tags will be made for cars that use alternate, environmentally friendly power so that, amongst other rewards, they will be allowed to travel in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes with only one person in them. At least this is some step in the right direction.
Speaking of pollution, the ground near the front door of the Kapteyn was strewed with garbage and the bin had been bashed in when we got here. Theo recognized the handiwork at once as the local bear "You see, Sallie, there really are bears on the mountain" as though I had poo-pooed the very thought. After my post-dusk encounter with the coyote last July here I am in no doubt to the realities of the wildlife here. If we are lucky enough to get to live in a house here on the mountain we will just have different street kids to deal with.
The quiet and stillness of this mountain coupled with the knowledge that we didn't have to pack up and move on to the next town was just weird to me this morning. We lazed around in our jammys and rang rental cars and Ryder and JPL and by ten we had our day organized. Chris Shelton rang and dished out all his rusty Dutch on Theo and I, I am always caught by surprise by this because he isn't Dutch but spent his first post-doc there and I never come back with anything wittier than "HUH?" He's having problems with his new job in Arizona because they resent the time he spends here on the mountain with his baby, the AO system, even though it was a pre-requisite for going there.
Come 10am we lumbered down the mountain as slowly as possible. Bob Cadman had told us last night that it would maybe snow and we saw evidence that it did but fortunately there wasn't much ice as the sun had done it's job by that time. (Give that sun a raise and a bigger office!) First we went to JPL and did that alien thang with badges and escorts, met some very nice nerdy scientists and after a false scary start, unloaded the exact amount expected. We were invited to lunch at the cafeteria and were struck by just how similar it was to all other academic/scientific institutions we'd been in.
Theo ran into Stuart Shacklan there who invited him to give a seminar so now Theo has to get Nils to run around and find a bunch of view graphs for Brian to bring.
Next we finally unloaded the millstone at Burbank airport. The guys at Ryder were old rockers and they actually gave us a lift to the other side of the airport to pick up our rental car and showed us where the "real" music was on the radio dial - very sweet. We got into a flashy saloon car and Theo reveled in having rearview mirrors that did something. The one advantage a truck has over a car is height and forward view which was in marked contrast to the "acres of bonnet" beast we have now.
Theo here. Being at JPL was quite enlightening. The NASA Jet Propulsion Labs was a real land mark for me. It's somewhere I've wanted to be since I was a child (last year I think that was ;-) and actually being there as someone they are working FOR was kind of fun. It is, as Sallie mentioned regarding the cafeteria, a model of a government lab. You could have transplanted us to any University or lab anywhere in the western world and we probably would not have noticed, certainly not by the quality of food or the many and varied accents to be heard around us.
I foolishly thought they would somehow be well organized or good at communication. After all these people put several clowns on the moon. Silly old me, they seemed to be as together as the SBS management team, well maybe a bit more but you get the idea. No-one seemed to be ready for our arrival, nor did they seem to understand what we were doing there. Nevertheless, we did get rid of the equipment, followed shortly there after by the truck and life has improved considerably.
Meeting up with Stuart was good. Having to give a seminar there as well as observe all night and work with the survey team other days does mean I will not sleep much until May sometime. However, how could I refuse the offer? Fortunately my time with lamplight theater will hold me in good stead, a few overheads, a few bad jokes, no script and I'll be fine. So long as I can stay awake long enough to do the job. I haven't seen Stuart since the Hawaii conference in '94. I don't actually know him very well, just one of the conference people I have met over the years. We also share our age and our position in the hirachy of stellar interferometry. I saw him in the lab, and thought to myself 'I know him, who is he again?'. He was obviously thinking the same thing judging by his expression, until he suddenly addressed me by name and asked me to come back for the talk. He said he wasn't sure who I was until he heard me speak, which apparently was a bit of a give-away. Having an Australian accent can help sometimes....
There were no spottos at all today but we didn't do very much driving and furthermore the downtown freeway system is regularly cleared of cars on the side of the road as they are dangerous, both to themselves and the passing traffic. I have become quite accustomed to LA driving now. Once you get passed being a bit nervous about the number of lanes, cars and the high speeds it all goes pretty smoothly. Getting stuck in the wrong lane is a bummer but they are well marked and if you know where you are going (which I mostly do now) it is rarely a problem. The contrast between the truck and the car is remarkable. As Sallie said, having a rear view mirror is a bonus, however, there was a certain advantage to the truck. You see, a rental truck may as well have large letters on the side that say 'This is a rental truck. It's big and I don't care if you smash into it'. This has advantages in lane changing. You signal, count to three and change. Who cares if someone is in your way? What's more, it seems, as the security guard at JPL who insisted on seeing inside the truck said to me, Ryder Trucks make people nervous nowadays.
Nils rang this morning to organize Theo's viewgraphs and then Hal called to catch up with the news. We were going to go to Disneyland today but we thought it might be too physically challenging and that we might have to take many visitors there in the future, so we weren't going to miss anything. Theo made delicious sandwiches and we went to the Tar Pits instead. It is a huge deposit of tar right near the surface which, over the milleium, has captured and beautifully preserved thousands of ice-age (10,000 - 40,000 years ago) animals like mastedons, mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers. It was an extremely good exhibition. The location is a little west of downtown LA but parking was not difficault to find and was competitive with Sydney prices which surprised us a little.
Next we went to Old Town Pasadena and checked out a very salubrious apartment complex. for 1400 smackeroonies (or so) we could get a 2 bedroomer with all mod cons, two bathrooms (each with it's own bath, shower, toilet and basin. Nice kitchen, small balcony, a swimming pool you can lap in, spa, excersise room and individual security systems as well as a guard and maintenance people living on the property. Old Town Pasadena is a groovy place with lots of shops and sights. We picked up some apartment magazines and headed up the mountain and hit thick cloud for the last couple of miles. We didn't meet anybody coming the other way, thank goodness, and Theo is very competent behind the wheel.
Much worse was the sight of ants all over the kitchen when we arrived home. Not fire or bitey ants but we have no ant poison here so I had to spray them with disinfectant and that's not going to hold them for long so I must cease my ramblings now and get that washing up done. We are trying desperately to stay up later than 8pm so Theo can start changing his body clock again. I've said it before and I'll say it again, thank goodness for Metamucil.
This morning the cloud hung around us and made visibility a few feet. We sat around all day hoping the fog would lift. Theo farnarkled around on the computer and napped in the afternoon and finally took the bull by the horns and drove down to get Barbara and Brian from the airport. Their plane was late and we were not looking forward to a trip down the mountain in the dark with only a few feet of visibility. We were relieved to lose the coloud only a couple of miles down and the pick up was successful. Theo and Brian then had to force themselves to stay awake as long as they could to ease themselves into an observing schedule. They did this with the aid of half a bottle of chardonnay and a packet of ritz biscuits. This is cold hard science.
We slept as late as we could and decided to do something touristy so we went to chinatown and had a yummy lunch there. Then we went to the supermarket and bought food for the week and scared ourselves with the amount it is going to take to feed ourselves for 8 days. I hope Steve can come to tea. The boys have just gone to start there run but the sky looks a bit pearly to me. I don't think they'll get great seeing tonight. They are going to come back at midnight and we're all going to eat together. Barbara's cooking spaghetti bolognese, or as we call it in our household - bog.
The boys called us from the telescope an hour after they got there and told us to come on over to see the comet so Barbara and I got out the Flashlight With Attitude and went blindly forth but got there nonetheless. We climbed all the way up to the balcony of the 100" and were rewarded with a smashing view of Hale-Boppe whilst Brian made vodka and applesauce jokes. He was refering to the bunch of Heavens Gate people who thought they would be hitchhiking in an alien spaceship on the tail of the comet. The boys had a bitchen pair of binoculars and it really was beautiful.
We headed out at about midday today and first went to the neat little post office up here. The guy was a trip and had to help me turn around on the narrow mountain road. We drove through the rich suburb of Flintridge and on to Burbank airport where we hired the car only to be told that we couldn't get Barbara signed on as a driver without on of the boys coming down there and starting a whole new contract. Barbara told him what for and we headed off for a qiuck bout of retail therapy at IKEA. Barbara bought a moose for Ashley and I bought travelling slippers for Theo.
We got back here a tad late and the barbecue was a bit untimed and the some things were overdone and some things under done but the really noteworthy thing was Theo's black mood. I'll let him elucidate.
I got up early today but not as early as Theo. The alarm went off at 6am and he met Steve Ridgeway and the surveyer at 7. When I got up at 9 I met Theo coming back in, he said "The buildings moved 4 foot, could you bring us a thermas of coffee?" I knew he didn't mean seismically and when I took the coffee over there I found out that the building is now 4 foot more west and 5 foot more north than it was originally intended. This may sound like a catastrophe but in actual fact it turned out it would not have fit in the original configuration. "Don't ask questions." said Theo and Steve said "Be careful who you tell." None of us know who he means.
Theo was so tired from being up at night and day that he slept this arvo. For dinner we went mexican in Pasadena - we felt it was important to get the boys "off the mountain." After mexican there was worry that the boys would propel themselves "off the mountain" it is a small control room there in and, Theo described the bodily function "tough actin' tinactin".
After the final night of the speckle part of our routine all seemed well. We slept for a decent amount of time and got up to a decent day. As I have to give a talk at JPL tomorrow it was time to try and sort out what I was going to show them and what I was going to say. Needless to say it meant every horizontal surface was covered in viewgraphs for a few hours, but I seem to have it relatively together. Still don't know what I'll say, but I'll find out tomorrow during the talk. I also thought I was comming down with a cold but that seems to have passed.
After a medicoure theo meal Brian and I prepared to have our first night of AO. Unfortunately they picked this time to do a magor upgrade of the system. Even though everything seemed to be working they decided to upgrade the operating system. Of course this meant that the software no longer worked, or ran too slow. More overhead in the fancy new operating system we thought. Go back to the old one I thought, if it isn;t broke, don't fix it.
What they decided to do was upgrade to a more powerful computer, which they did. The hardware cards used to talk to the AO system wouldn't work in the new computer, so now we had a new operating system that was too slow and a new computer that refused to talk to the hardware. All this from a system that worked quite well before they started to futz with it. So, next was an attempt to modify the software to make it work. No luck and by 6pm (it get's dark at about 7) they decided to go back to the original setup (what a crazy idea eh?). By this time they had moved so many bits around that they couldn't get it to work at all. We were mad, in fact I have never seen Brian so mad. They farnarcled untill midnight by which time they had it working well enough, only to discover that the weather had turned bad. Brian and I called the night off, and will insist on getting another free night in return, hopefully with a working system.
We returned to the house to have a few drinks and watch some dreadfull TV shows, including 'Babe Watch'. What a day.
There is a flow chart on my office wall, the first two bits of which read:
Does it work? /^\ / \ YES NO / \ Don't Fuck with it. Did you Fuck with it?
I may send it to them.
At least we had a good long night's sleep. Well it was talk day, so Sallie thought she should wash my jeans, which she duly did. While this was going on I borrowed a pair of jeans from Brian and went to look at what the surveyers had been doing. THey had obviously been sneaking in and working while I slept as the job of running little sticks down the lines of our light pipes was nearly complete. I also spoke to Dale the foremen (who seems to have a room tempurature IQ) about the bolt hole patterns in the concrete piers. What an interesting job I have I thought to myself.
Meanwhile the jeans were refusing to dry, so after a quick sandwhich and a new shirt we all headed down the mountain towards JPL. The girls went off to buy new shoes for Sallie and after only a 20 minute wait at the front entrance Brian and I were finally let in to give the seminar. The talk went well, I got a few laughs, no-one's head hit the table and I was told it was the best turn out for a talk in years. They even asked some hard questions. Of course this meant we were late, but there was a car with two women in it waiting for us outside.
We proceeded to have a meal in a local place and have a commando shopping raid at Vons for milk and so on. We returned to the mountain just in time to run up to the dome and start taking calibration frames for the CCD. The AO system now seemed to be working, so encouraged we began work for the night. We actually got onto a star and took a picture of it, seeing both components. Of course we realised that we had to climb up onto the telescope for a final quick adjustment. The system hasn't worked properly since (It's now night lunch). It seems I learnt nothing from my own flow chart eh? Oh well, the seeing is really crappy, so there would be very little data to get anyway (years of education give you ample skill at rationalisation). We fixed the problem and await the improvement in weather conditions. It's real brass monkey weather out there and a strong wind is blowing, even without refried beans for dinner........
Domestic day for me and an official one for Theo. Brian and Barbara didn't sleep very well so they got up around midday and went down the mountain for icecream and errands. I took the opportuntiy to wash the kitchen and bathroom floors and vacuum the living room. I took the garbage to the dupster where we have to dump our bottles as well and that pains me a great deal. There is no recycling up here. There are a few bags of aluminium cans in the laundry as it would be the utmost folly to throw them away.
For Theo it was Rick the filmmaker and Peter his young assistant to talk to and the surveyors to check on. Rick is making a film of the the whole Mt Wilson machine. Apparently they haven't been too co-operative which seems to us a mystery as a bit of well placed publicity would be good for this mountain top. Then, because Brian was cooking dinner, Theo went to do the flats and Brian cooked a shrimp and tomato thing which was nice and they managed to observe all night 'though the seeing was bad because of the wind.
The big news was when Trevor rang and told us that ***THIS PART REMOVED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY.***
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