(I meant to post this yesterday but ran out of oomph. Er, maybe it's still Thursday somewhere?)

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I realise this is not the most exciting photo in the world, but my Fun Space History Fact of the Day for Throwback Thursday is that the Cassini spacecraft distributed operations computers OS of choice is...Solaris. Note the countdown clock in the upper right corner of the screen. Only two weeks left.

Side note: I love those weird eye-bendy default backgrounds in Solaris. They remind me that my first experience learning to use *nix properly was on the Sun Sparc 5 workstations in the Von Karman library basement at the University of Southern California.

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Yesterday, we celebrated the retirement of one of my lab colleagues (second from right). He spent 52 years working as a technician in our lab. Power supplies he built for dozens of space missions are scattered throughout the solar system. He is a (largely) unsung hero of space history, Hauksbee Award notwithstanding. Trevor Beek, I salute you. I hope you enjoy many years in contemplation of a job well done.
Fish
Keiki squats down to look at the fish in the polar bear enclosure at the Vienna Tiergarten.

The Schoenbrunn should definitely make the top ten of every visitor attraction list of Vienna, if not the top three. It’s the gigantic former summer palace of the Hapsburgs, and the grounds alone merit at least a half-day stroll to explore fully. There are gardens, fountains, hidden playgrounds, an enormous glasshouse full of palm trees, and even a zoo.

Despite having visited the Schoenbrunn grounds many times, I’d never been to the zoo, which is allegedly the oldest in the Western world (founded in 1752). Now, with two small children, one of whom is animal-obsessed, I had good reason to go. The children and I set out early one morning to travel via the Viennese underground to the palace.

Humuhumu was keen to learn how to navigate the transport system. She got very good at spotting the way to the correct train lines, and proudly announced when the next train would be arriving after we got to the platforms.

It took us 45 minutes to get from our temporary abode to the Schoenbrunn and, conveniently, it was just about Cake O’clock when we arrived. We detoured around the palace entrance and stopped off at an Aida Konditorei, a chain of inexplicably pink cafés that serve extremely nice cakes, coffees and hot chocolates (apart from the one near the opera house – avoid that one; everyone who works there is sick of tourists and very grumpy).

We walked into the Aida and chorused “Guten Morgen” at the round-faced, unsmiling woman behind the counter. She broke into a beaming grin and showed us to the table next to a tiny play area containing toys and books, which the children pounced upon. (Throughout the trip, I encouraged the children to greet everyone we met in German, to say please and thank you in German, to order their food using the German words and, when I felt confident in my knowledge of the right phrases, I coached them to make requests in German. I was astonished at the abundance of goodwill toward us that this produced.) Humuhumu ordered her hot chocolate and cake in German, and was rewarded with an additional pink meringue, which she received with an unprompted “Danke schoen”. When we left, Keiki crowing “Wiedersehen” over my shoulder with his dimpliest smile, the server came out from round the counter and gave each of the children an extra biscuit, which, to be honest, they didn’t really need after all that sugar!

Full of energy, we bounded into the grounds of the Schoenbrunn and raced around whilst waiting for the grandparents to join us at the entrance to the Tiergarten (Zoo). As vast as the Schoenbrunn grounds are, they are not big enough to house a comprehensive collection of the world’s animals, so cleverly the Tiergarten is focused on a limited number of species and provided them with luxurious accommodation.

Keiki and Humuhumu loved the place, particularly Keiki. Once he spotted the meerkat enclosure, we couldn’t get him to finish his lunch. Neither could we readily tear him away from the penguins. In fact, Granddad had a bit of a job keeping Keiki from clambering into their pond to join them. We communed with the seals. We watched a polar bear chewing meditatively on a traffic cone. And, of course, Humuhumu found a climbing wall and had to try everything.

It was a wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon, and we will certainly return to the Tiergarten on our next trip to Vienna.

Further photos beneath the cut.
+++ )
The weekend started off well, with skipping Parkrun because everyone wanted a lie-in followed by preparation for Humuhumu's first ever sleepover. Her friend Dimples* and brother Dribbly* came for an afternoon playdate, followed by pizza for dinner and strawberry jelly for pudding. Dribbly went home with their parents. Humuhumu and Dimples watched Frozen together whilst dressed as Rapunzel and Elsa respectively. I was astonished to discover that Humuhumu, who watched with an almost ferocious concentration and entirely ignored Dimples' running commentary, has almost the whole film memorised. Not just the songs but the dialogue as well. The viewing was followed by a colouring session in the Elsa colouring book. Humuhumu strenuously objected to my idea that we should disassemble the colouring book so they could work simultaneously and instead they patiently took turns for half an hour until we declared it to be bedtime and they curled up together in the spare room bed.

I read a number of stories, but Dimples was way too excited for sleep. She routinely stays awake longer than Humuhumu, who is firmly attached to an 11-hour snooze every night. We heard quiet talking and sneaking into Humuhumu's room to fetch cuddly toys. After putting my foot down for the last time at 9:30 PM, I waited in our bedroom until the whispering died off. They were sound asleep within ten minutes.

Both girls were up by 7:15 the next morning. Dimples was a font of chat as she ate her crumpet with Nutella, whilst Humuhumu looked pale and distant, though happy. Dimples' mum came to pick her up with many thanks, and then we got ready for gymnastics.

It was badge week at gymnastics and Humuhumu earned her first Fundamental Movements badge. We put the certificate on the wall next to the bed, and she's currently deciding where she'd like to sew on the badge. We don't have a special gym bag for her yet, but it would seem wise to acquire one at this juncture.

Gymnastics ends in the middle of lunchtime, so I put the children in the car with their snacks to tide them over until we got home. About a mile and a half down the road, I suddenly felt something go wrong with the car. It felt like I'd abruptly shifted from fourth into neutral, though of course I had done no such thing. There was, unusually, a car behind me, so I put on my hazards, downshifted to second (not that it made any difference) and coasted into a layby next to a gate featuring a large hand-painted "BULL IN FIELD" sign, where the car promptly died. And wouldn't restart.

Did I mention it was snowing? And distinctly below freezing outside?

I took deep breaths. I rang the bloke, because I couldn't find my RAC (roadside assistance) membership card. The bloke texted me the necessary information. Some people on horseback went by and kindly told me the name of the lane we were in, as even though I drive the route every other week, I didn't know that particular one as it has no sign. I rang the RAC and ascertained that it was going to take at least two hours for them to get to us.

I took some more deep breaths and rang the bloke again. We agreed that him getting in a taxi to swap places with us was a good idea, as Humuhumu was very upset about the broken car and being hungry and cold. (Keiki went to sleep, being blissfully untroubled by any emotional attachment to the car.)

Our knight in shining silver Peugeot turned up with his woolly jumper, book, and crisps. We gratefully clambered into the functioning car and went home, where we all had hot chocolate with marshmallows in. And a good thing too, because it took the RAC nearly three hours to get to the bloke.

The RAC mechanic diagnosed the car as terminal. Our usual garage seems more hopeful. Fingers crossed we don't have to say goodbye to Sophie (our much-loved Citroën) just yet.

* Names have been changed.

On a more soothing note, here are two photos.

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Keiki and Humuhumu wrapped up in a fuzzy grey blanket, pretending to sleep on the kitchen floor.

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Longcat Telstar is astonished at his own length.
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I asked Humuhumu to keep herself and Keiki amused with the laundry basket whilst I put away some freshly tumble-dried clothes.

As I was finishing up ten minutes later, she sang out to me, "Mummy, come and look what I made!"

And so I was greeted on the stairs by a daughter in her black heart hoodie, rainbow raindrop leggings, watermelon socks...and a skirt constructed from clothes pegs.
Anecdote 1: Today I've had the ultimate "living in the countryside" experience.

I had to stop the car in the middle of the road.

To move a giant turnip.

Sadly there are no photos of this momentous occasion, as the event resulted in the countryside version of a traffic jam (two cars behind me, one car on the approach). So the poor turnip was hastily consigned to the hedgerow and I got back into the car.

It also demonstrated to me that I still think like a city person, for I automatically clocked the thing in the road as rubbish and chucked it away, rather than thinking, free comedy oversized vegetable == soup for days, and placing it reverently in my car.

Anecdote 2: Anecdote 2 is behind the cut because talk of ladybit gorezone )
On Martin Luther King day (yesterday)

Me: “My work inbox is quiet today. You can tell it's MLK day in the States.”
Him: “Who's he?”
Me, after a long pause: “This is like that time you got me to explain bukkake to you, isn't it.”

At the dinner table. We are having an assortment of leftovers. I have also cooked the remainder of a packet of streaky bacon.
Keiki, pointing: “Mmm! Mmmm! Mmm!”
Me: “What? Mashed potatoes?...No. Pasta?...No. Beans?...No. Oh, but you've never had bacon before. Are you sure?”
Keiki: “MMMMMM!”
Me: “Okay, okay!”
(He ate two slices.)

In Norfolk

Humuhumu, laughing (age 3): “Bum Bum!”
Cousin, laughing (age 4): “Bum Bum!”
Adults: “Stop that! It's not nice to call people bum bum.”
There is a pause.
Humuhumu: “Cousin! Let's go upstairs so we can say it and they can't hear us.”

At home, a couple of weeks later.
Humuhumu: “Mummy, it's not nice to call people poo poo, is it.”
Me: “No.”
Humuhumu: “Or bum bum.”
Me: “No.”
Humuhumu: “You're not a poo poo or a bum bum.”
Me, gravely: “Thank you.”
Humuhumu: “You're a silly billy.”

[Humuhumu asleep in the big bed.]

Humuhumu has three modes of expressing when things have happened: "yesterday", "now" and "later". I particularly love that anything that happened in the past that she can remember was "yesterday". If it was three weeks ago that we ate the chocolate ice cream after dinner, or two months ago that we had her friends over for her birthday and they ran around the garden screaming, she refers to that as "yesterday", and seems to take as much pleasure in the reminiscence as if it really had been yesterday.

~*~


She loves being the little spoon when she's going to sleep. She doesn't mind being transferred to her own nest in her room later, but she almost always wants to go to sleep with one of us cuddling her in the big bed. Just before she falls asleep, she flips over, puts her arms around our necks, heaves a deep sigh and lies still for all of four seconds before twisting back into little-spoon position and passing out. It has got to be one of the sweetest things I've ever experienced.

~*~


She carries on being wonderfully perceptive. One morning I apologised for speaking sharply to her for no reason and explained, "Mummy sometimes gets grumpy when she hasn't had anything to eat yet." A few mornings later, she noticed me getting stressed while I was preparing breakfast. She got a dried apricot out of a tupperware container and brought it to me. Holding it up, she said, "Mummy, you need to eat this," in exactly the tone of voice we use with her when we're being no-nonsense.

~*~

Keiki has finally, definitely-without-question-referring-to-the-subject, said his first word.

I don't think anyone will be surprised to hear that it was "cat". Nor that he has now said it about fifty times and with great enthusiasm every time Telstar enters the room. "Cat! Cat! Cat! CAT!" The fervour and the adoration in his voice is, I'm afraid, entirely lost on the object of his affections.
nanila: (kusanagi: aww)
( Oct. 29th, 2015 01:31 pm)
Remember those Very Excited Year 4 students that I wrote about (DW/LJ) a few weeks back?

Their thank-you cards arrived yesterday.

Heartfelt and wonderful works of art that they are, I thought they merited scanning in and sharing. I shall treasure them.


"Thank you Dr [nanila]!" by Beattie

+13 )

Yeah, I cried at my desk. <333333
The surest sign for me that I'm not presently getting enough sleep is that I keep failing at making tea. Not fancy tea. Apparently at the moment I can't even make a cup of bog-standard builder's.

Yesterday, I put the water in the kettle and the tea bag in the mug. I went off to do something else for a minute, figuring the kettle would boil during that time, came back and started to pour water into the mug. I'd filled it 2/3 of the way before I noticed the lack of steam and realised I hadn't switched the kettle on.

Today, I put the water in the kettle and switched it on, then felt prematurely smug at having improved on yesterday's performance. I got my mug out of the cupboard. I thumped back upstairs to answer an e-mail. I trotted downstairs and poured hot water into my mug. I brought the clean laundry upstairs, came back down and put milk into my mug. I carried my mug back up to my desk, sat down, and started to drink my tea, which tasted really weird.

I got halfway through it before I recognised that I was drinking diluted hot milk. /o\
[Admin note: Entry text has been lifted and modified from an earlier locked entry because PHOTOS! Please let me know if Google Photos is still being crap and I'll put them on Flickr. I hesitated to do so because I didn't take these pictures.]

Last week, I gave my first outreach lecture in just over a year. I'm not doing much outreach any more as my schedule is pretty full, but I made an exception for this Year 4 teacher. I've known her for a few years now, from when she worked at a charity called IntoUniversity that runs courses for children whose parents haven't been to university. She was always fantastic at laying the groundwork for an outreach event, arranging for a big audience and ensuring that the children understood that what was happening was quite special. This is a totally underrated skill in outreach and in general, I think. I knew that the students would be studying space and the solar system in their curriculum, that they would know of my visit in advance and thus that they would be able to extract the most from it.

Anyway, this time I unintentionally pushed this poor lass to her limits. I turned up a week before I was scheduled to do so. It was entirely my fault as I'd put the correct time but the wrong date into my Outlook calendar.

She rallied beautifully. It helped that, superstar teacher that she is, she had already been preparing the students and teachers for my arrival ("We're getting a NASA engineer to visit us!"). Her composure outwardly unrattled, she managed to get all the Year 4 and Year 5 teachers to rearrange their lessons, and bring their children down for the lecture. I'll never forgot those 180 excited faces staring up at me from where they were squooshed together on her classroom floor. They hung on my every word and pelted me with questions for 15 minutes at the end. Then they applauded me. Some of them stood up. Some of them were cheering and whooping. This went on for almost two minutes. I have never felt so embarrassed and so pleased in my life. As they were leaving they came up to me individually - one girl just so she could hug my leg.

"Doctor Nanila," said one smiling eight-year-old boy, "How do I become an engineer?"
"Doctor Nanila," asked a serious-faced child, "If you could go into space and live on your dream world, what would it look like?"
"Doctor Nanila," said a brown-haired girl, "I saw the blood moon through my binoculars! Do you know, it was the closest the moon has been to the Earth this year?"

I have permission to post the photos the teacher took from the event. Without further ado, me and her Year 4s doing the Vulcan hand salute. Please note that I'm wearing an ESA Rosetta t-shirt. Sadly the design is on the back.

Live long and prosper! Peace! Five! Uh...fingers!

+3 )

They've sent a bunch of handmade thank-you cards to my work, which I'll pick up next week. They're going to make me cry at my desk. <333333
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