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March 28th, 2012

The luxury of an ordinary day

Since my return from Verona I have had the unusual luxury of several weeks without anything "unusual" -- which is, itself, unusual. It's 8 pm tonight, a Wednesday, and while I am waiting for Gabriele to finish watching the news before going out for a pizza, I thought I would record another typical day of a Jesuit astronomer.

We went on Legal Time this week (DST) and so waking up has been a challenge... I lay in bed at 7 am, listening to the podcast version of the sports program Pardon the Interruption. Following American sports is my way of keeping in touch, at least a little bit, with the popular culture "back home." Besides, it's a fun show. And one of the hosts is a product of our Jesuit high school in Chicago, while another regular is a Fordham University product; gotta support our Jesuit schools, right?

I did eventually drag myself out of bed, into the kitchen for a caffe lungo and three of those little hard round Italian pastries that go well dunked in coffee. That's breakfast. Then the long commute, one flight downstairs, to my office and lab.

The first order of business was charging my dewar with liquid nitrogen for today's run of heat capacity experiments. While waiting for it to cool off, I answered emails. A colleague in Louisiana has made contact with folks who can do heat capacity measurements the expensive, tedious, material-consuming, but accurate way. (My method is not expensive, not tedious, not material consuming... and alas, not very accurate.) So I sent her my suggestion of which samples were our top priority to measure, and what level of precision I would hope to get. More emails to folks whom I will be visiting in April and May. 

The other task this week is preparing a short movie on the history of the Observatory, and a short guide to our offices, for a group of about 300 VIPs who are scheduled to come through here in May. Since they will be of various language groups, the film must be without narration; the guide must be prepared soon so we can translate it into various languages. First task was the movie, where I have spent the last week learning all the things nobody tells you about iMovie on the Mac. I do wish I had the "missing manual" that David Pogue wrote.

At 9:20, the first sample gets dropped into the liquid nitrogen; samples follow at 20 minute intervals. Ten am is coffee with the whole group, and after coffee I show the first version of the movie and collect suggestions for improvements. By 11:30, the last of the samples has been measured and I port the data on a stick from the un-networked PC to my Mac, for later reduction and analysis. A little work as well on a possible talk for a history of astronomy conference, in September in Flagstaff, where I might review Secchi's contribution to studying stellar spectra and its connection to Slipher's first measurements of the radial velocity of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Community prayer at 1:20; pranzo at 1:30. The first course today was gnochetti, second course fried chicken and roast rosemary potatoes. Then to bed for a nap (and a bit of a crossword puzzle). I slept later than usual today, didn't get up until 5 pm. I emptied the dishwasher -- one of my community jobs -- had an espresso, and then went for an hour walk/prayer in the gardens. By 6:30 I was back at work, reducing this morning's data and trying (unsuccessfully) to find a simple relation for the shape of the curve of heat capacity as a function of temperature, relying on literature data and what little real data my colleagues have gotten so far for meteorites. Work continues.

At 7:30 pm, I went up for community Mass. Today's reading was from Daniel...  Shadrak, Medzek, and Abed -- Abned -- what's-his-name... which is apparently pronounced and maybe even written completely different in Italian than in English. As is Nebedga...mumble mumble. That king, you know, with the fiery furnace. Sigh. I can't pronounce those names in English much less Italian...

Our rector, Paul, has just returned today from the US, and is feeling a bit peckish; there's not much food in the kitchen so we're going out for pizza. Gabriele wants to watch the news so we're waiting for him. As he is a Neapolitan, and very fussy about pizza, we won't go to my normal place (which is friendly and nearby) but to another place where the pizza is admittedly better but the people who work there are surly. I will let Gabriele deal with them!

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