30 March 2005

The Wonder of It All

Ha. An awesome and hilarious commentary on our favorite NESN commercials at C2F.

28 March 2005

April 19th

I was asked recently what factors were preventing me from picking an exact date for my departure. Upon consideration I realized that there really weren't any details remaining which would influence when I go except when I wanted to go.

So. I leave on the evening of April 19th. Yikes.

25 March 2005

Oxford Pics

Oxford Pictures are posted in the gallery on the right. I hate hate hate the TypePad interface for sorting/commenting/uploading photographs. I'm going to set up something better on my own RSN.

20 March 2005

The Practice Trip to England (V)

Here I am at Heathrow, waiting for them to call my flight home for boarding. My time yesterday as the Wellcome was only moderately productive. Lon called from France, which did give us a chance to catch up and square a few things away. Unfortunately the administrator in charge of financial matters wasn't in on Friday, so that stuff won't be fully resolved until next week (when I'll be in the US, of course). It doesn't much matter to me, as long as all the relevant authorities are satisfied. I am slightly disturbed about my visa, though, as it sometimes takes a few weeks in the mail, which is really more time than I can afford. Maybe I should look into one of those agencies in New York that expedite them.

News on the housing front is a bit more hopeful. I met a nice girl named Rebecca who used to work at the Wellcome and is just now moving back to Oxford. She's renting a house that's still being refurbished by the new owners, starting in May. It's gutted now, so looking at it wasn't too impressive, but I suspect that's for the good, since everything will be brand new when they finish, and I have no strict deadline on when I have to move out of John B's spare room. Plus it is literally less than 10 minutes walk to the Wellcome, which will be perfect. Plus, I really love the idea of moving into a new place with all the roommates at once, so I won't feel like I'm arriving in an existing home.

The place is in a decent little neighborhood in Headington, near the town center (and as I said, near work). The only problem is that the guy who's negotiating with us is a bit of a goon. His brother runs most of the construction projects they do, and I think this is sort of first try at being the point man. He seems well intentioned, but unable to give us all the exact details of the finished product (since many of our questions have to be funnelled through the brother). Anyway, we agreed upon a provisional lease, subject to the completion of the house to our satisfaction. I really had good luck falling in with Becca, though, because she's been looking at places in Headington for two months now and has fairly exacting standards (she currently lives with her financier boyfriend in London, so she's unwilling to move into a hovel).

So basically I've got both short- and long-term housing squared away and my finances in at least somewhat better shape than when I arrived. All that's left is to fill out some forms and mail them off, get the visa dealt with, and wire my deposit to the landlord and I should be in good shape. See you all soon!

18 March 2005

The Practice Trip to England (IV)

I'm updating before Friday's over, but you'll have to forgive me as my access to the network from here out will be limited. The conference wrapped up this morning (from whence I posted episode 3 of this tale) and we had our final luncheon. After that I headed to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, where I am currently posting from the Bioinformatics Library.

Lon's assistant, Melissa, has been showing me around a bit and now we're waiting for him to call in from France to finally settle all the financial details which have been hovering over my head. I'm just hoping it doesn't turn out that he "kind of" has money available to pay me or something of that nature. So far everyone has been quite nice and the building is cool. It's fairly new (5 years old) so the fixtures and stuff still have a fairly new feel to it. The exterior is a fairly bland concrete/steel/glass affair that Scott would probably find reprehensible. Maybe I'll take a picture on my way out. Speaking of photos, I've got quite a few, but not my data cable, so they'll have to wait until I get back to be posted here.

Coming here today has slightly alleviated my sensation of dread at showing up and not know what to do. On the other hand, one guy asked, "So what's your project?" to which I replied, "I don't know yet." Which isn't really a good thing. Hopefully it won't take too long to find something useful to do. Also, Melissa kept introducing me and mentioning that I'll be splitting time between here and Stats. Now I'm technically in the Stats department (for reasons mostly financial) but I wasn't sure until now whether it would be entirely pro forma. I have mixed feelings about the prospect, because it will be cool to be involved in some of the projects at Stats, but the guys there are crazy math geniuses and they intimidate the crap out of me.

The Practice Trip to England (III)

Due to an improper time zone conversion when I looked at my cell phone (still set to EST) I dashed out without showering to try to catch the tail end of breakfast before the 9AM conference start time. When I arrived in the dining hall it was deserted. "Crap," I thought. I missed all the food.

Then I noticed that the dishes were all clean. Then I realized that it was 6:50 and not 8:50. This realization gave me time to take a shower, do a little reading and have a leisurely breakfast with Itsik before the first talk. I was also treated to the unpleasant shock that Lon had left early despite being scheduled to work out financial details with me.

I spent most of the morning session being annoyed that Lon had flaked out again and trying to broaden my search for an apartment so I could visit a few places while I'm here. By lunchtime I had figured out for sure that Lon was gone so I fired off an email to him in the hopes of making some alternative plan to confer with him about money. I finally got an email from his assistant and we made a plan for her and me to get together on Friday afternoon to deal with the administrative details. Not exactly what I wanted, but a relief that it will get done before I leave. The afternoon session wrapped around 5:15, and I headed out to Cowley (about 1.5 miles from the city center) to view an apartment there.

Now, several locals had been telling me that the whole city isn't all 1000 year old golden stone buildings, and this was my chance to figure that out for sure. I was going to take the bus, but I didn't have to be there until 6, so I decided to walk. Cowley Road (which runs, unsurprisingly, to Cowley) was a bit dive-y. Lots of ethnic restaurants and decreasing property value. One of those neighborhoods with several Western Union offices. I eventually got to 7 Trevor Place, which was a tiny little place, but the woman who lived there and owned the place seemed nice enough. She even gave me a ride up to where I'll be working and then back to town to try to give me a sense for the distances. Very hospitable, all-in-all.

Back at the conference reception I gulped down a glass of wine and started chatting to somebody who had been working completely seperately on some analysis I had done a couple months ago. It was a really nice validation, actually, because we had come away from the experiment with a decidedly bland result, which she confirmed. I also practically fell into a place to live. Shaun knew a guy ("John B") who works at the Wellcome Center who has a spare room he sometimes rents out. This is totally perfect for me 'cause he'll do a week-to-week rental so I'll have a place to stay when I first come, from which I can look for something more long term. Another good sign is that every Oxford person to whom I mentioned my future roommate immediately replied, "Oh well do you like real ale?" (Real Ale is evidently a British term for some extra strong, dark bitter beers — mmmmmm) We spent the next two hours trying to round up the whole group of us from Boston so we could go out to dinner. We did eventually get to the Cafe Rouge, which was pretty daecent, since someone else was picking up the tab.

By the time we got back from dinner it was past 11 (the absurdly early closing time for the pubs) so we got a few drinks at the "marquee" which is the English word for a big tent. Mark and I started play cards for 20p/40p stakes, and as always we had a good 6 handed game going within 20 minutes. I ended up taking about £5 from the game, which was 12.5 big bets in an hour and a half — not bad. We made another visit to the Kebab van, this time spending about an hour and a half hanging around and shooting the breeze. I'm sure the dudes serving the kebabs were wondering why the hell we were just hanging out beside their truck.

So: housing dealt with, finances about to be dealt with, and all is well from the UK!

17 March 2005

The Practice Trip to England (II)

I woke up Wednesday morning after ten hours of sleep finally feeling in-step with the local time. Morning talks were good, and I was much alert than I was on Tuesday. When I woke up I had the sensation of only hazy recollections of part of the previous night, but it had been due to sleep deprivation instead of the more typical excess of alcoholic consumption.

By lunchtime it was becoming increasingly awkward that I hadn't yet spoken to Lon. Until that point there just hadn't been a good opportunity (e.g. I bumped into him while he was on his way out of the bathroom and I was on my way in — "Oh hi, Lon, can we talk about my studentship while I take a piss?"). I was going to try to sit with him at lunch, but there weren't any seats at his table. Fortunately I saw him after lunch getting a cup of coffee and I had a chance to say hi. That hurdle cleared, I talked to him and one of the guys in his lab about places that might be good for me to live and Lon and I made plans to talk about my finances on Thursday.

We had some free time from about 3:30 until dinner at 6:30, so I poked around in the Natural History Museum (including exhibits on opium smoking and betel chewing equipment from around the world). Then Shaun, Jules and I walked over to Brasenose for me to have a look at my future college. After that we went off to a hole-in-the-wall pub and had a couple of pints, then to another pub, then to the conference banquet.

By the end of the evening, as the calendar turned over to the 17th we were toasting St. Patrick with some Jameson's (ugh, that's twice in a week). On the way to bed we found a kebab truck where I got the English equivalent of Moishe's: some lamb and lettuce and french fries in a pita. Pretty tasty with the hot sauce.

16 March 2005

The Practice Trip to England (I)

The overnight flight from Boston to London really kicks your ass. We were wheels up at Logan at about 7:15PM and touched down 6 hours later in Heathrow at 6AM GMT. I was running on about 2 hours of intermittent sleep on the plane and was in desperate need of coffee if I was going to make it through the day. Mark and I (who had been on the same flight) met up with Julian, who had arrived about an hour before us. With some good strong coffee in hand we hopped on the bus for Oxford.

This being my first trip to England, I actually spent the hour on the bus watching the scenery go by instead of taking a power nap. The outskirts of the airport were fairly unimpressive, but it quickly gives way to sheep pens, fields and ancient looking villages on the hill. The distribution of cars people drive here is wildly different from the US, too. I've seen about half a dozen "smart cars" which are totally awesome tiny electric cars with just two seats. Plus there are obviously fewer massive SUVs and many many more BMWs and Mercedes.

Once we arrived in Oxford, we checked into our rooms at St. Anne's college and went for a bit of a walk around town (lunch started at 12:30). Everything is really old here. Every pharmacy seems to have a 900 year old church attached to it. The whole town is built around the colleges which constitute the University and it has a very organic feeling entirely devoid of city planning.

Staying awake during the first set of talks was a bit of a challenge, since I hadn't had any solid sleep and it was about 9AM EST. The mid-afternoon coffee break managed to keep me going through round 2 of the talks. The first poster session (at which my poster featured) was held in the Oxford Museum of Natural History, which is a gorgeous refurbished Victorian manor filled with dinosaur fossils and shrunken heads collected by 18th century Britons pillaging the wealth of the world.

Dinner at a local Indian restaurant (very good) then sound asleep around 10PM GMT for a much needed 10 hours of sleep.

09 March 2005

Trip Report (I)

I keep avoiding my bløg because I know that a few people are still waiting for my Vegas trip report. I doubt I'll finish the rest of this, but at least a small piece will alleviate some of my guilt. So here's a little something, even though I've told most of these stories to the two or three people who might care. On with Part I.

Tuesday, 08/02/05

I took a 6:30 PM flight out of Boston a month ago today. It was a non-stop flight on Song airlines, which was quite enjoyable since they have those nice in-flight entertainment screens at every seat. The only weird thing about the flight was this woman who kept pacing up and down the aisle of the plane. At first I thought she was waiting to use the bathroom, but then I realized that several people had gone down to use it and come back and she just kept walking from the back of the plane near the bathrooms to the front of the passenger cabin, pausing two minutes at each end. Eventually a flight attendant said something to her in a hushed voice and the lady sat down.

By the time I arrived in Vegas and made my way to my hotel it was past 1AM Eastern time, so I figured it was pointless to go play poker while I was so exhausted. I read for a few minutes and then fell asleep.

Wednesday 09/02/05

I woke up at about 6:30 local time and immediately headed down to the Bellagio poker room. When I got there I was astonished to find only two games going, both of which were way over my limits (a $30/$60 and a $60/$120 if I recall). I couldn't believe there was less action here than at Foxwoods. I realize there's more dispersion in Vegas, but still, this is the Bellagio! I walked across the street to the Aladdin, as their 40 foot video screen out front had been pushing their new poker room. Even more deserted than Bellagio: two dealers sitting around and a dude washing the table tops.

This underscores another thing I noticed at this hour of the morning: the only people awake were conference attendees, people with early AM tee times and the minimum wage earners charged with the upkeep of the glitz monolith. Take for example the lush flowerbeds outside the Bellagio. They must be comprised of species which just die in this environment, because there was a horde of gardeners digging up flowers which were starting to die and replacing them with identical replacements. How often does this happen? Every day? Janitors drove around on big carpet cleaning machines and a team of underwater mechanics was out in a dinghy in the man made lake in front of the casino.

I finally found a Starbucks slightly off the strip where I could get a coffee and croissant for less than $12. I went back to the Bellagio at about 8:40 and discovered that I had arrived on the very day when they were moving their entire poker operation into a lobby so that they could begin construction on the current poker room to double its size. This wonderful quirk of timing left me waiting for 2 hours to get a seat. Finally, at around 10:30, I sat down at a brand new $8/$16 game.

The most memorable player from that table was an extremely pissy and aggressive asian woman about 30 years old. She played with the stereotypical maniacal belief that she could win any pot by hammering away at it like crazy. She and her friend (who was super-tight) played tag-team style, switching off every hour or two. It was important to keep track of who was playing the seat, because their styles were wildly opposed. I basically stayed there and ground it out all day, timing my breaks to get the full hour and a quarter of being away from the table without being picked up.

I had a ridiculously strong run during the last couple hours before Reid arrived (about 10:30 PM) and when we cashed out to go home to bed at about midnight I was up $779 on the day. Not a bad start to the trip.

04 March 2005


So I finally got all of the requisite pieces lined up and I'm leaving for Oxford in April. As it turns out I'll have to track down my housing on my own, but I'm conveniently going to be in Oxford for a conference the week after next, so that will give me a chance to find something suitable.

01 March 2005

One of Those Sessions

I just had one of those sessions where I ended up losing, but felt like a big winner. I was sitting a couple of 5-10 tables and getting absolutely reamed. One of those days where every time you catch a break you get check-raised by a runner-runner straight.

In any event, I was just about to call it a night and lick my wounds when I picked up 7 7 in the small blind. By the time it got back to me all 7 other players (we were nine-handed) had limped. I figured "what the hell" and threw in a $5 raise. The big blind and all the limpers called, leaving $90 in the pot. At this point I'd have enough money to call a bet on the flop with legitimate odds to my two outer! As it turned out that didn't matter, when the flop came sweet as can be:

5♣ 7♣ A

I considered how to play it for a moment. Given that there were 8 other people in the pot I figured somebody must have either a flush draw or an open ender right now so I've got to play as hard as possible. I immediately checked with the near guarantee that one of them would bet into me. One of the early position players bet it and everybody called. I banged in the raise and we took the turn with $180 in the pot and me currently ahead of any hand except an unlikely pair of pocket aces.

Of course, the turn is the death card:


This is literally the worst card I could possibly see. I immediately figured that my lousy session was about to become abysmal, so I just fired out the $10 bet. What else was I supposed to do? I waited for the inevitable raise from some jackass with a flush, but all I got was 4 callers. Odd, but I still knew that I could only win if I hit my draw to a full house or better.


Far out. Far fuckin' out! I immediately bet my full house and got two quick callers and one fold. The button sat and thought; I hoped desperately that he was pondering a raise. As it turns out he just called, but it still left an absolutely gigantic pot for my virtual persona to rake in over one dude with top pair and two 9 high straights(explains why nobody had the cojones to raise). I quickly jumped up from the table and considered my $100 overall loss a big win.