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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Daniel's LiveJournal:

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    Sunday, May 25th, 2008
    1:38 pm
    Three things I had almost forgotten about Japan
    The sound of May: frogs in rice paddies; the ubiquity of drinks vending machines; the scrupulousness with which Japanese pedestrians wait for the green traffic signal, even in the absence of any traffic.
    Tuesday, July 12th, 2005
    7:01 pm
    Fourteen months
    This will be my last journal entry - for a while at least. I am unhappy with my life here, and writing about it isn't going to make things any better. The only thing I can do now to make things better is to leave. I may be able to find the courage to do this soon, or I may simply continue in my passivity and wait for things to take their natural course. I've enjoyed keeping in touch with friends through this medium, but for now I don't want to use it as just another way to whinge. I hope we can continue to remain in contact in other ways.
    Saturday, July 9th, 2005
    12:04 pm
    不登高山,不知天之高也!
    When I arrived at Cogne, I thought I might still have time to scramble up one of the nearby peaks, so I quickly put up my tent and headed out onto the trail. But as I was watching the clouds started crawling up the mountainside like giant slugs, and within a few minutes the thunder was echoing up and down the valley. I spent the rest of the afternoon cosily sheltered in my tent, reading sanwen by Mao Dun and dosing off to the sound of rain crashing against the fly.

    On Tuesday I followed a path up the Vallone di Grauson, rising up past the cow-spangled grass slopes into the alpine meadows and finally the rocky ground around the peaks. I was feeling oddly sleepy all day - not tired from the walk, but perhaps because I had been dozing so much in my tent the previous day, and couldn't break the habit. At one point, halfway up a steep scree slope, the urge became too strong and I found a couple of solid handholds and footholds and took a little nap for a couple of minutes; when I woke up, I lokoed down and decided maybe this wasn't the best place to drift off.

    The clouds were back on Wednesday, but there was never more than the odd spatter of rain. I rose early and set out just before seven for the steep ascent to Rifugio Sella and the traverse to the Casolari dell'Herbetet, which was a much more straightforward route than the LP described. Plenty of good views across the valley and up to the glaciers at the head of Valnontey made me decide to do the parallel route on the other side of the valley via Alpe Money. This route turned out to be even better than the first - an amazing traverse across steep grassy slopes with views right down to the bottom of the valley and the glaciers above, all on a nice smooth track so that it was even possible to spend my time admiring the scenery and the wildlife (lots of big horny ibex) rather than the path under my feet. I got back to the village of Valnontey just after seven, satisfied and hungry.

    The last two days I followed the Alta Via 2 over a couple of high passes (both over 3000m). While I enjoyed these, I don't think I would have wanted to do too many of these in a row, since the one big ascent and descent for each of these days made for a rather monotonous format. Still, there's something nice about sampling 1600m of different mountain ecologies in a single day, and there's nothing quite like that exhilarating moment of reaching the pass and seeing the next valley spread out underneath you. (Except for the one time on Friday when after a few seconds of admiring the newly opened vistas, I realised that I was facing in entirely the wrong direction - after some pleasant off-track wandering by the lakes, I had found my way back onto the wrong track and since it seemed to be heading in the right direction for a while I ddn't notice until I reached the pass.) Friday felt more like a race than a walk, since to get to the airport on time I had to catch a bus at 2:30 and losing my way didn't help; I ran much of the way down the slope on the other side, which was painful but not as painful as reaching the bottom and seeing on the timetable that the bus I had planned to catch didn't exist. I ended up hitchiking back to Aosta with a Milanese mother and her children who had been holidaying in Courmayeur.
    Sunday, July 3rd, 2005
    6:24 pm
    Storms
    There are storms forecast for tomorrow, so it looks like I may be spending the afternoon gazing out the window of cosy cafe in Cogne instead of heading straight up to the Laghi di Lussert. With any luck they'll be finished by the time I want to pitch my tent. The rest of the week's forecasts are looking all right for the moment, so I'm still looking forward to a few days of good walking.

    Current Mood: excited
    Saturday, July 2nd, 2005
    10:07 am
    Back in Italy
    I arrived safely at Valdellatorre after a tense bus ride to Stansted (traffic was so bad the the driver asked for help from a local to find an alternative route out of Cambridge - but once we hit the motorway things were fine and I still made it to checkin with 15 minutes to spare). Mara picked me up from the airport, and I'll be spending the next couple of days here, celebrating William's birthday tomorrow and heading off to Aosta and Valnontey early on Monday morning.
    Friday, July 1st, 2005
    9:54 am
    Six hours until I leave Cambridge! (for a week)
    This thought makes me far happier than it has any right to. But then after that it will only be another three years until I leave Cambridge for good. I've been a good mood again for the past few days, despite having objectively calculated tha my life here is really pretty bad after all. My project is pretending to work for the moment - I finally managed to find conclusive evidence that I've been doing the wrong thing for the last nine months, and that an alternative approach has at least a possibility of working. It will take me about a year before I can decide that this approach is just as much of a dud as the first one, but since I've stopped caring whether or not I get a PhD at the end of my time here, this thought doesn't bother me so much.

    I have a few last things to buy before I leave this afternoon, and then the problem of cutting my luggage down to 15kg for Ryanair. And then I get to leave Cambridge!

    Current Mood: relaxed
    Sunday, June 26th, 2005
    7:48 pm
    The most exciting events of the last week
    The concert last Saturday went off well enough, but like most of the choir, I had never really got around to liking the piece (Tippet's A Child of our Time). I spent most of the day organising the post-concert party.

    I took two days off from the detested lab, since I knew I would have to come in on the weekend if I wanted access to the FPLCs. Thursday I had meant to read a few essays from a collection on Yuan thought, but got very little done. It was too hot, and I'm always so tired from the lab work that it takes me the best part of a day just to recover.

    Yesterday I went to London to buy camping gear for Italy: mainly nice lightweight tent, big enough for two if anyone wants to join me on a future expedition. :)
    Bought Fuchsia Dunlop's book on Sichuan Cooking and ingredients from Chinatown. Tried out one of the recipes last night but not particularly successful. I'm not sure I'll ever really understand meat. Back to vegetarian for tonight.
    7:00 pm
    Things I like:
    Singing: 3 hours/week
    Cooking and eating at home: 8 hours/week
    Spending time with Chinese friends: 2 hours/week
    Studying Chinese etc.: 12 hours/week
    Walking/riding in pleasant places: 1 hour/week

    Things I dislike:
    Being in the lab: 45 hours/week
    Riding to and from the lab: 3 hours/week
    Cleaning up other people's messes in the kitchen: 1 hour/week
    Shopping at Sainsbury's: 2 hours/week

    So on average I spend slightly more than twice as much time each week engaged in activities I dislike than things I like. I needed to work this out objectively, since my mood has been oscillating quite a bit lately, and I never know which moods I can trust as my 'real' feeling about my life at the moment. From the above, it would seem that my life is one-third good, two thirds bad. Is this the best I can hope for?
    Saturday, June 18th, 2005
    12:04 am
    End of the year
    The academic year at Cambridge ended today. I didn't really notice until I got sick of the noise from Sidney Susex again and came to the Jesus library. The night was warm, the moon gibbous, and tents and undergrads were sprawled across the college lawns.
    Saturday, June 11th, 2005
    8:07 pm
    Finished the translation! (again)
    I went and discussed my issues with Yunus and had a crash course in four hundred years of inner Asian history - with this background the whole thing is starting to make a bit more sense, and I think I can surreptitiously work some of it into the translation to make it coherent.

    He also gave me some of his home-made noodles - he thought they were too thick but I enjoyed them anyway.
    4:45 pm
    Back to the Mongols
    For some reason I was in a good mood yesterday - perhaps because I haven't tried any experiments this week that might theoretically give me any results, so I haven't had the chance to be disappointed.

    I'm in less of a good mood this afternoon, since I've been spending the day struggling with Yunus' article again. I thought I'd finished with this - the translation still had plenty of problems and gave an overall impression of incoherence, but Yunus was going to let his Mongolian professor look over it and edit it. Now it turns out the professor is too busy, so he simply gave it back to Yunus with the comment that 'there are a lot of problems'. Yunus went over it himself but didn't suggest many changes, so now I'm going back and trying to make sense of it again. I'm beginning to think that the lack of coherence isn't entirely my own fault - the original Chinese is scattered with typos and even a few blatant self-contradictions, so I have the difficult task of trying to repair the cracks in my translation without spending six months becoming conversant with the sixteenth century tribal history of inner asia.
    Thursday, June 9th, 2005
    1:33 am
    Why am I still here?
    It has now been a month since I admitted to myself that continuing to pursue a scientific career would be an effective way to make myself miserable for the rest of my life. The only question now is whether I start the rest of my life now or first spend another three years in purgatory. Perhaps that's a little melodramatic, and in my optimistic moments I think that maybe I can manage my life better and enjoy myself more than I did this year.

    This is what I would need to do to make life in Cambridge tolerable: Read more...Collapse )

    If I managed to do all this, life wouldn't be perfect (I'd still be living in England, after all), but it would at least be tolerable for a while, and according to my calculations, with the twenty minutes or so remaining to me each week I would still get enough experiments done to finish my PhD within about 22743 years.
    Friday, May 27th, 2005
    6:04 pm
    Cells that don't pellet
    And now the protein I'm trying to express does something funny to the cells so that I can't even spin them down. All these annoying technical details are really beginning to get to me. It's been two years since the last time an experiment of mine produced some meaningful data, and even then it wasn't very interesting.

    On the positive side of things, the weather was gorgeous today and we all went out for lunch at a (rather mediocre) pub while my non-pelleting cells were growing. A relief after yesterday's mugginess, but I'll be spending most of the long weekend inside reading about the history of Daoism.
    Wednesday, May 25th, 2005
    8:20 pm
    Another wasted day
    After spending the whole day on a competent cell prep, the styrofoam box I carrying them in broke while I was coming down the outside staircase, casting the neat little frozen eppendorfs over a vast area of questionable sterility. Well, I can always do it again...

    Anyone care to remind me why I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing this?
    2:18 am
    What to call your child
    In Yunus's article there is a reference to an Oyirat Mongol Lama called "Zayan Ban Di Da". I wish I was called something like that.
    12:27 am
    Berwald and 金文
    I couldn't concentrate on the jinwen 金文 I was trying to read this evening, so I pulled out a CD of Berwald's Symphonie singuliere that I've only listened to once or twice since coming back from Goteborg. This is an amazing piece of music - I'd rank it as high as any other non-Beethoven symphony from the nineteenth century. Why isn't it performed more often?

    IU went back to the jinwen afterwards and decided that really early Chinese is just too weird. Best for me to stick to the stuff from the Zuozhuan onwards; even the Shijing is pretty scary.
    Monday, May 23rd, 2005
    8:48 pm
    Finished translating Yunus' article. Still can't work out what I want to do next - I've started going through the motions in both worlds and feel oddly detached from the whole process. On and off, I've been thinking for years about abandoning science, but still find it hard to believe that I could really choose to do anything else. I've written more emails.

    There were a couple of talks at the LMB today, neither of which helped to push me one way or the other.
    Wednesday, May 18th, 2005
    10:24 pm
    Dinner
    I have asparagus and beans and tomatoes in the fridge at home all ready and eager to be turned into a delicious springtime salad. If they could use the telephone they would call me up at the lab and say, "Where are you? We've been waiting for hours and you still haven't eaten us!" But it will be midnight by the time I get home and I will be too tired to do anything except sleep.

    And I had even thought I would have time to finish off Yunus' translation tonight.

    Current Mood: exhausted
    Sunday, May 15th, 2005
    2:50 pm
    The early relationship between the Jungar Khanate and the Oyrad Mongols
    Yunus has asked me to translate his article of the above title from Chinese into English, for an as-yet undetermined translation fee to be paid by a research fund belonging to one of the academics in Oriental Studies. The article is based largely on the Tarikh (Annals) written in Arabic by some central asian bloke with an Arabic-sounding name I can't remember, and contains numerous quoted passages translated by Yunus from Arabic into Chinese - which leaves me wondering how much resemblance to the original will remain once I've gone and translated them into English, but never mind.

    I'm finding the process challenging, attractive and repellent by turns. Challenging, because just reading the Chinese with all these Arabic, Turkic and Mongol names transcribed into Chinese characters gives me a headache. Attractive, because it's an area about which I know nothing and has the charm of the exotic. Repellent, because it's not really the sort of history that appeals to me - all these political struggles between various warlike tribes. But then, it's not up to me to tell the Oyrads and Jungars what sort of history they ought to have, or an eighteenth-century Arab chronicler what sort of events he ought to be chronicling.
    Thursday, May 12th, 2005
    8:33 am
    The Hills!
    Off to the Lake District this weekend to be rained on...
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