Sunday, 20 September 2009

A trip to Effelsberg

Last week Michael took Paulo and me to see the telescope in Effelsberg. I'd been to Effelsberg before during a conference in Bonn over six years ago but this visit was more interesting because I knew I would be using this telescope a lot over the coming years. Unfortunately, unlike the day six years ago, it was cloudy and rainy.

The Effelsbserg telescope on a sunny day The Effelsberge telescope on a rainy day

We were introduced to the local staff and shown around the main building before going on a tour of the telescopes. I say telescopes because a new LOFAR station has been built next to the 100m. While LOFAR will be an amazing instrument and this station alone has the same collecting area as Parkes, it's not exactly spectacular to look at. It is basically a lot of wire in a field with a big box-o'-electronics next to it. Still, it's going to be fun to use.

The LOFAR station at Effelsberg The primary focus cabin

Then we turned our attention to the 100m itself. It's a beautifully designed telescope which changes its shape in an entirely predictable way as it moves. This means that unlike the GBT it can maintain an accurate high-frequency surface without needing actuators. We took a lift up to the top of the towers. To get to the focus cabin the telescope was pointed nearly horizontally allowing us to walk along one of the support arms. This has the added advantage of not having to climb all the way. From the arm you get a good view of the primary and secondary focus cabins.

The secondary focus cabin The primary focus cabin and secondary reflector

Once inside the primary focus cabin the telescope was slewed so that it was pointing directly up. It was interesting how our perception of the space in the focus cabin changed as the floor slowly became the wall and visa-versa. Once we'd reached the zenith we climbed up to the roof to admire the slightly damp view of the valley.

The view from the top The cable wrap
The view down a cabin support arm The control room

Back on the ground we inspected the cable wrap before heading to the control room. In the rack of backends I saw a familiar sight, a PDFB from the ATNF. It still needs a bit of work before we can use it regularly. There was also the new multibeam backend which vital for the new survey.

The PDFB The multibeam backend

After a quick meeting we drove back to Bonn, stopping for a late lunch and a beer in a nearby village. I'm looking forward to going back to observe!

Monday, 14 September 2009


've been in Germany for nearly two weeks now. Luckily I've not had any jet-lag worth mentioning, in fact it's been nice to be getting up early in the mornings. I'm staying at the Internationales Gästhaus just a couple of mins walk from the lab. It's small but has everything I need for the moment.

My office isn't quite ready yet so I'm sharing with Norbert. He, Paulo, Aris and I make up the pulsar group, but there are more people on the way. The weather has been beautiful and we've been eating out on the roof most days despite the wasps.

Park in Bonn Park in Bonn

At the weekends I've been out exploring Bonn. It's quite a nice little city with plenty of old buildings and lots of parks and squares. Despite the city being small on Saturdays it's very busy with people shopping and there's something happening in most of the squares. But on Sundays all the shops must shut by law and it's a ghost-town. The public transport is excellent and there are plenty of bicycle lanes. Living in Canada and Australia I'd almost forgotten that bicycles existed but here they're everywhere.

Bicycles in Bonn Münster in Bonn

The latest news is that I've found a flat in Bad Godesberg, just 4 mins by train from Bonn. It's nice and big with a spare room for visitors and a south-east facing balcony for my satellite dish :) Unfortunately it doesn't have a kitchen or any light fittings which is normal in Germany. There's lots to do but it's relief to have found somewhere already.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Leaving Sydney

Ten days ago the removers came and took all of my worldly possessions to send them to Germany. I had spent the week before taking apart all my Ikea furniture to keep the shipping-volume down. By the end of the week I was sleeping on the sofa and living out of a suitcase.

Boxes, boxes and more boxes

They took four hours to pack up all 75 boxes / thingies and take them away. It was pretty stressful watching my things bump around in the back of the ute on their way up to the van.

The ute loaded up Transferring from the ute to the van

After that I moved into George's spare room which he had kindly offered for my last week. It was surprisingly tidy, I suspect that the imminent arrive of Sha may have had something to do with this :) The last week was good fun, every night we were drinking and eating somewhere with friends. Jono and I even managed a last Pizza Tuesday.

I had the traditional pulsar farewell at Fusion before Dick left for Parkes. It was nice that so many people could come to say goodbye (and avoid the cafeteria). I sold my car and returned the house so that I could spend my last weekend in Sydney having fun rather than messing around with moving.

On my last weekend we had a little BBQ around at George's house. That day he was busy taking Sha to Manly (well there's a double entendre for you - but since it's George that I'm talking about, Manly clearly refers to the place). Anyway, Vik helped me go shopping and grab food, beer and fuel for the BBQ but we forgot to lock the house and we found Anna tidying when we returned.

Burnin' down the house mahjong

I really enjoyed the BBQ. Anna burnt down George's garden, George played a duet with Sha, Sha and Jono beat everyone else at mahjong and Jo kicked my butt at Tetris.

The boat ride out to Watson's Bay The city from Watson's Bay
The next day George, Sha, Jo, Vik and I headed off to Watson's Bay for nice boat ride, a short walk and a great view of the city. It was a stunning (to borrow George's favourite word) day - sunny and cloudless but not too warm.

Jo peaks over the edge

We had fish and chips at the dock then walked around to the head. We passed a nudist beach which was a little disturbing with blokes standing around butt-naked but Sha and Jo seemed interested! We walked around the cliff-top and enjoyed views of the waves breaking against the rocks below. Vik managed to find a way down and we walked around exploring the rock-pools before the rising tide made it time to go. George, of course, managed to get wet.

Vik on a rock

Mike kindly gave me a lift with my huge bag from George's to the ATNF on Monday. I had a final morning tea and said goodbye. George, Jono, Mike, Vik and Neerag waved me off when the taxi arrived. "You're a very popular guy," said the taxi driver. They just wanted to make sure I actually left :)

Unfortunately, on the way to the airport the taxi hit a plastic bollard which then jammed under the car. We had to pull over in one of the tunnel's emergency stopping areas to remove it and check the tires. I thought this might be ominous but other than that it was a pretty smooth trip. My bag weighed 31.4 kg (which means that George's scales are accurate to within 0.2 kg) but I wasn't charged any excess.

The train to Bonn

I managed to sleep well on the flight and arrived in Frankfurt rested. I spoke German for the first time in ages when buying my train ticket. It was easy stuff but I has quite pleased with myself until I turned to leave and said 'Merci', immediately followed by 'Bollox'!

The train travelled along the bank of the Rein all the way up to Bonn. There were lots of little villages nestled between the valley sides and the river and it's really quite picturesque.

crossing the Rein

I got to MPIfR just before 0900, got set up in the guest-house and then was ready for work. I managed to stay awake until 2200 and had a very good night's sleep.