My 2008

I have decided to write a short summary on what I’ve done over the past year. Apart from a few damn annoying things (i.e. getting broken into and having some stuff stolen) 2008 was a pretty good and fun year. I’m going to link to old blog posts throughout this post.
As always the new year is closely followed by my Birthday celebrations, this year it involved an evening out listening to the Planets Suite at the Birmingham Symphony Hall. Was a pretty special occasion, especially now that I am a quarter of a century old!
On January 16th it was time for me to go half way around the world, a trip to India to do some observing with the GMRT (Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope). I like it out at the GMRT, the weather was hot, relaxing and I got lots of work done. The weather was pretty stunning with some fantastic sunsets:
GMRT Antenna at Sunset
I had a good week or so observing and I came back with a lot of data, about 100 hours which I still haven’t fully finished the analysis of. Well I’m almost there, and I believe I may have actually detected something I was looking for (that would make a change, see later).
One of my favourite photos of myself throughout the whole year was taken during this visit:
Me and a GMRT dish
More on my visit to the GMRT:
Sunset on the GMRT, So it begins.., First day of observations complete, Its so hot… or am I lame?, So what did you do on Saturday night?, A Sunday morning stroll, It’s 7am… I’ve been up 2 hours – why?!, Its been a long day…, My friend in the control room..
February was a bit more of a relaxed month than January, well in the sense that I did not have to travel halfway around the world. Though there was the manic-ness of a talk in Cardiff, to Cardiff Astronomical Society, followed by getting the first train back at 5am to teach a lab at 9am. Lets just say I’m not sure the students got the best out of me that day! At least I was there, if only in body. I also took a trip down to London for a FAS meeting.. but I got there a bit early and so took the opportunity to go and have a look at the University of Birmingham built Spacelab 2 which now is sat in the Science Museum.
It was also my first chance to take a look around the fabulous refitted Royal Astronomical Society…
galaxy window
A day out in London.
In March I was given the opportunity to talk to the British Astronomical Association on my work. Not bad really since I’ve only written a couple of papers. I spoke around my work with the title: “The search for radio emission from extrasolar planets”. March also brought the Annual Poynting Physical Society ball, which as always was good fun! Another one of my fav photos of the year was taken…
I was also nominated for “Sir Arthur Clarke Award” in the category for “Best Student Achievement”. Alas, I didn’t win the award but it was really nice to be put forward!
Physics Ball, Nominated for “Space Oscar”
The start of April involved me rushing around to get research (with my conference proceedings from “From planets to dark energy: the modern radio universe” were published) done whilst giving a number of talks to astronomical societies, though it was quite a relaxed month. And it snowed!
The 10th talk in the series of public talks about astronomy that I have been organising since the first one took place too! I just hope we keep going…
April Snow!, 10th talk in the Patrick Moore Series!!, Conference Proceedings Published
May brought Lizzie’s birthday and my chance todo some baking…
A cake!!!
June was a fun month, probably not as much work done as there should have been really. I started off by giving a talk to AstrotalkUK about FAS stuff… take a listen [here]. Astrosoc took a trip up to Jodrell Bank, something we have been talking about doing since I was back in my first year as an undergrad, it was good to finally see this happen!
On the subject of Astrosoc, at the Annual Dinner this year I was awarded my lifetime members to the University of Birmingham Astronomical Society. Something that made me feel quite proud, for some reason I didn’t blog about this – I normally love blogging about random crap that makes me look good :-D.
June also brought my first experience of the Download Festival. I have to say I was impressed and glad that I took the break from Reading for a change. In all fairness I’m likely to go back to Download next year instead of Reading. It was great fun and not as cramped and uncomfortable as Reading can be. Probably helped that we drove to and from everyday though… oh and Sean and I got harassed by some storm troopers.
Then of June took me and Lizzie down to Edgbaston to watch part of a county game and get some free food, I won a prize at the PPS ball. Couldn’t moan it was a good day.. shame it started to rain! Typical English cricket!
Interview for AstrotalkUK,A trip to Jodrell Bank…, Download Festival 2008
July was truly fantastic and involved probably my most adventurous couple of weeks of my life – backpacking from Berlin down to Rome on the train. For some reason, probably the fact that I didn’t have time I’ve never gotten around to blogging about this properly, so I’ll try and fill in some blanks now.
So the trip started off on June 30th with a flight from the awful East Midlands airport to Berlin. The flight itself was nice and easy, though I want to avoid East Midlands airport at all costs in the future, bloody hell hole. Once we got to Germany everything as pretty simple – after a couple of trains we were at our hostel (the Generator), which reminded me of some old Laser Quest (bright blue and red walls with blue lighting). Was pretty cool and did the trick.
Our first full day in Berlin involved us taking the train into Alexanderplatz, I’m still not sure we actually paid for that journey… actually I don’t think we did! Woops. We looked at the obvious and huge TV tower, took a look at a couple of Churches nearby.
We then walked down to the road the Berliner Dom, the main Cathedral, it costs us 3 Euros to go in and go up to the top. Was a pretty fantastic view, though the parliament building had a better view. Continuing on down the road you eventually hit the Brandenburg Gate (Tor). If was very busy around this, it actually looked like Euro2008 had been on display there. A short walk further down the road took us to the Parliament building, which has a rather cool, but odd structure on the roof. We didn’t go in at this point as the queues were huge. We then took a short walk down through the park and ended up at the English Garden, which had a rather cool cafe in. Adam and I had a rather nice dark beer. After this we got back on the train and had a look around where the Berlin wall reaches into the north of the city – a very odd site. It was actually smaller than I thought it would be, but I could fully appreciate how foreboding it would have been.
Our second day in Berlin, and I was already tired so we got a day rail pass. We started off by going to the Parliament building. The queue was not too long though it was probably slowed down by Adam having his electrical tape confiscated (though he got it back later, he needed it too keep his shoe together!). The glass dome was impressive but I was a bit disappointed. On the way back down the road we were able to walk back through the Brandenburg Tor.
We then went down to the Jewish Memorial. I was not too impressed by the block, it was just a bit bland.. maybe the hot sun didn’t help. The museum underneath however, was well, depressing – but I had expect that. This was followed up with a reflective lunch at Kamps. A short stroll down the road took us to the car-park that was believe to have been Hitler’s bunker (well the location of). This was followed off by a trip to one of the most tourist heavy locations I’ve ever been to – Checkpoint Carlie. Very commercial – not sure it was worth the walk! From here we went to the museum das terrors – which was largely disappointing but then again it was only temporary and very very hot! We ended up back in Alexanderplatz for a look around a church – which was truly breathtaking. We ended up having dinner around there at a restaurant that just served potato based dishes, though the food and musics was good!
From Berlin we headed down to Dresden. I was very impressed with how easy the train ride was. We then took a walk around as we got down to Dresden for 9. This involved a walk around the beautiful Zwinger palace. Dresden is truly beautiful, well once you get pass all the big old communist looking buildings. We ended up having lunch in an Irish pub, we had to do this at some point during the trip didn’t we?!
We left Dresden shattered, but rather happy and onto Prague…
My first impressions of Prague were very negative. Their international train station is a bit of a dump and their metro system, though rather cool, has the most annoying ticket machines that we came across on our whole journey. It probably didn’t help that the place we was staying in looked, well lets just say a bit dodgy. It was fine once you were in there – a place to stay in the end and that’s all that matter. Oh we also got rather lost getting of at the wrong station on our fist day of exploring and then the first thing we saw was some “young lady” selling drugs… good old St Wenceslas square!
Still though Prague was fantastic with lots of wonderful architecture, though a bit more expensive than we thought it would be.. oh and their clock is cool but didn’t not beat the wonderful glockenspiel that was in the Zwinger palace! For more see Images taken in Prague.
From Prague we headed onto Vienna, on a rather fancy train – well a Eurostar so not that fancy but compared to the last couple much nicer… though not as much fun – as we had compartments up to that point! By this point I think I was feeling a little exhausted and luckily we had our own apartment to rest in. Vienna had some absolutely stunning building in it. Though I wouldn’t recommend going on a boat ride down the river.. especially without a coat and it raining on you! The picture really speak for themselves… Vienna images. Our good friend, the monkey had fun too…
From Vienna it was to the home of sound of music and gorgeous Salzburg. Salzburg is the sort of place that you couldn’t spend too long at if you wanted lots of things todo that you would get in a big city such as Berlin but was full of fantastic little places and was very relaxing. Since we had a long day there we ended up playing mini-golf to pass the time as we waited for our train… a night train down to Venice. Images of Salzburg.
The train journey to Venice was uncomfortable.. but at least I got some sleep. It was also 2 hours delayed, now that takes the piss really – up their with Virgin trains! Didn’t help that there appeared to be no air con! It didn’t get any cooler when we got to Venice but I’m sure we were fully expecting the heat, though we were completely shattered by this point. I actually wrote a blog entry about this, and so will direct to it, Venice.
After a couple of days in Venice it was time for us to split, with Adam and Maz going to Milan to go back to Brum for graduation and me and Lizzie to head on down to Rome. The train journey to Rome was fun and apart from a few small issues I had a great time in Rome… I think the scene of the year for me had to be walking out of the Colosseo train station to see the Colosseum and the Moon.. the first thing we saw in Rome (for more images see Images of Rome.
An easy flight was had back to the UK.
It was only a few weeks later that we were back off on holiday this time to France. I had a great time in the Loire Valley region of France. The weather was Sunny and the evening skies were fabulous (I’ve never seen the Milky way looking so wondrous, I reckon this was the first time I’ve seen the gas clouds). A short stay in France.
At the start of August, before the trip to France Lizzie and I managed to get on the TV, well Astrosoc did as ITV Central covered what we were doing for the Partial Solar Eclipse… Partial Solar Eclipse. Oh and probably the most adult thing that I did all year happened during August… I moved in with Lizzie… eek! View from my flat
September brought the University of Birmingham Space Day – which was hugely successful with over 300 people along. I was very pleased with this – a big step forward for our outreach activities. The FAS Convention was also held during Sept and the day went well with 150 people along, I stepped down as Secretary but now have the full job of organising next years convention. My second paper A Deep 150 MHz GMRT Survey in Eridanus was also published in Sept! Woop! I also started teaching a course at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens on astronomy… which is a nice escape from the day to day research and a way of taking a step back and thinking about the larger issues in astronomy. To link with this course I started a new astronomy blog… “Musings in the Cosmos” –
I also got to see Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company with Patrick Steward and David Tennant… absolutely wonderful!
Vale Fireworks were a big highlight in November, as always…
December was rather busy (I still haven’t digested the past month) and bought a fantastic Lunar Conjunction:
In short though, 2008 was a great year – full of travels and at times hard work. I’m almost finished with my thesis so 2009 should bring some interest challenges and hopefully a bit more travelling!


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