Archive for January, 2016

The problem with phrasebooks

Saturday, 9 January, 2016

I’m going back through my travel diary of my 2007 holiday to Germany, enlarging and adding photos, adding hyperlinks, and generally cleaning it up a bit.

I found a bit where we went into a chocolate shop and my wife wanted to get just a bar of chocolate. But we could only see fancy truffles and pralines and chocolates with various nuts and other fillings. The woman in the shop didn’t speak any English, so I checked my phrasebook for a word meaning “plain”, so I could ask if she had any plain chocolate. The book gave me ebene, so I asked, “Haben Sie ebene Schokolade?”

She gave me a very strange look, and had no idea what I was talking about. Despite further attempts, I had no success in explaining to her what we wanted, and we ended up buying some chocolate with nuts in.

It’s only now, nine years later, that I’ve looked up “ebene“. It turns out I wasn’t asking for “ordinary, unadorned” chocolate. I was asking for “large region of flat land” chocolate!

Parkes Radiotelescope diary 1989

Monday, 4 January, 2016

I was cleaning out the garage and found some old stuff, including a written account of a trip I took to observe at the Parkes Observatory radiotelescope as a summer student in 1989. So, without further ado:

Hooray! I’d been accepted for a summer vacation scholarship at the Australia Telescope National Facility. This means a wonderful opportunity to engage in some scientific research and to gain experience in working in professional astronomy. There’s also the small matter of earning three hundred bucks a week…

It was all set. I was to begin working on Monday, the 4th of December. That gave me a week off after my last exam at uni. Whoah, a holiday! When was the last time I had one of those?

During my exams, I received a phone call from my ATNF supervisor, Dick Manchester (the man who was once heard to say, “There are more things in life than pulsars.” This is a second hand account, so its veracity is to be questioned).

“How would you like to go to Parkes?” he asks.

“Great, when?”

“November 27.”

There goes the holiday! But wait, I have already planned to do things with friends nearly every day of that week. The last thing was an ice skating trip on the Friday, the 1st of December. I said I was busy until at least then.

“Well, do you want to fly up on Friday evening?”

I’m not one to knock back a free plane trip, so on the appointed Friday there I was, sitting in a minute ten-seater plane with blistered feet and aching legs from the skating and almost falling asleep due to the several late nights just gone. (I’d just made the plane by a mere ten minutes, but that’s another story.)

An hour later and the plane had touched down at Parkes. There were about six cars and a dozen or so people waiting for their friends and relatives. I hadn’t the foggiest who would meet me and take me out to the telescope. Walking across the tarmac, I noticed one guy whose sloppy joe was emblazoned with a star-field and a radiotelescope dish. Okay, that was easy enough.

The Parkes Observatory radiotelescope