Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dublin Day #2

Elliane and I were on our feet basically all day. I don't think Elliane is really thanking me for that part of the day.

The first thing we did, after sort of sleeping in. I say "sort of" because I only slept maybe a couple hours all night. There was constant noise outside the windows and people (there are 12 in the room) were moving around at all hours. Also, I think I just tried to go to sleep before I was tired enough to. Anway, I got up and ate breakfast around 7:30 and then lay down to go to sleep around 9. I woke Elliane up at 10 and then went back to sleep until around 11.

The first thing we did (around noon) was go see the Trinity College and their prized possession, the Book of Kells exhibit. The Book of Kells was a copy of four of the gospels written in Ireland around the year 700. It is famous for its absolutely amazing detail and artistry in transcription. There are many pictures of Christ and the apostles done unbelievably elaborately. Also, care and artistry is put into every section of the gospels. You really just have to Google it - take a look at some of the pictures and read the history - to get an idea of what this thing's about. Basically, Trinity College has a few rooms done up really nicely with displays showing all the coolest parts of the Book. Many of the best images in the Book are blown up about 10x and shown on the walls. That's really the size you need to get the detail of this book. It was pretty awesome.

After going in and out of there pretty quickly, we went off to catch the start of a free walking tour of Dublin. The tour took us to City Hall, Dublin Castle, old Dubh Linn, Viking remains, Christ Church Cathedral, and an alley haunted by a lady accused of being a witch. Our tour guide, Amanda, was extremely animated, talkative, and friendly. She was very proud to be Irish, born and bred in Cork. She told us a few times that she speaks Irish Gaelic, which is pretty cool. She also told us some good stories from her personal life, including one about her 96-year-old grandfather who has only ever left Cork once. That was on his 4-day honeymoon to Dublin, and he disliked it so much that he left that early. She seemed to think he was representative of many Irish who grew up around the time when Irish independence from Britain was still fresh.

The tour took a break at Temple Bar. I thought Elliane and I had enough time to run to a grocery store to buy lunch (it was after 2 and we were really hungry). By the time we got back, the group had left, except for this one guy who was sitting outside the bar. He had just been waiting there for the group and thought they were still inside. I guess he just never saw them leave.

So we joined forces with this guy, a short, friendly, well-dressed, black businessman from Canada, to try to catch up with the tour group. Long story short, we tried for a while, walked to St Stephen's Green, and failed. We did, however, get to talk to this guy for a bit, which was entertaining enough. Apparently he used to play mid-center field for Rutgers soccer. Now he works on managing high-end real estate for rich athletes. I guess it earns him enough to wear a Gucci hat, some sort of fancy animal-skin boots, nice sunglasses of some kind, and just really sharp clothes in general. And he lives in London now. I missed his explanation of how he got there.

After giving up on the tour, Elliane and I went back to the Book of Kells exhibit, since we hadn't spent much time there before.

We finished that thoroughly (more thoroughly than maybe Elliane wanted, but that's just how I do museums) and headed off towards the Guinness Storehouse. That was a walk to close to the western edge of the city center. We didn't realize you have to pay to get in there, so we left soon after getting there. I'm not sure what 11 Euros gets you there, but I think I'd rather just do the Lagunitas tour in Petaluma again. We didn't even get a pint of Guinness (but I'm sure we will soon).

We walked a bit further west to a park with a big monument to Wellington and Waterloo (probably from the Victorian days, but I'm not sure). Our feet were tired, so we rested there a bit. Then we took a long walk all the way back to the hostel along the north bank of the River Liffey. Dinner was goat cheese ravioli, pecorino ravioli, mushroom soup, and tomato basil soup. Gotta love grocery store deals.

We're leaving tomorrow morning for a coach tour of Wicklow. Should be awesome.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In Dublin!

Time for my usual apology.

Dear Blog,
I'm so sorry I haven't written in so long. I promise I won't do it again.

Most Sincerely,

Good. Got that out of the way. Now on to Ireland.

I arrived in Dublin earlier today, after a very nice stay in Belfast. I got to Belfast on the "rail-sail" route from London via Scotland. After not sleeping all night (I had a final project due and then I had to pack up my life up before leaving Oxford), I took a bus in to London, the Underground to Euston Station, and then sat in Euston Station for a bit. The train was supposed to leave a few minutes after I got there, but they had to clean up some sort of vandalism on the tracks. That set us (and all the other trains leaving from Euston) back quite a while. From there it was a 5 or 6 hour train ride to Glasgow. Because of the vandalism, we arrived late, missing the connection to Stranraer. Virgin Trains (or whatever it's called) arranged for all the people who missed the connection to get taxis (on them) to Stranraer. For the next couple hours I chatted with a talkative old lady who lives outside Belfast. We talked a lot about Belfast, how she had been to Palo Alto, her kids in college, Glasgow, and other stuff. We got to Stranraer and took the ferry over to Belfast after that.

I have pictures of the ferry. It wasn't exactly what I expected. Apparently it's the largest ferry in the world (built by Scandinavians, of course), but there wasn't much to see on the water, nor was the puny observation deck very interesting. I took pictures of the inside though. It was really impressive.

I got to Belfast. I shared a cab with a Chinese couple from Shanghai. They were staying at some hotel in the center of the city, and I was at the Vagabonds Hostel, also in the center. I don't know why one would choose to go to Belfast, of all places, all the way from Shanghai.

Despite not sleeping the previous night, I had trouble sleeping. There was a massive group of teenagers wearing all sorts of black, goth-y clothes (including cloaks) and partying loudly in the hostel. I know I wasn't the only one annoyed. Some people told me they had been there a few days already, never even doing their dishes. Eventually I got to sleep, but it took far too long. They left in the morning. And there was much rejoicing.

The next day was pretty awesome. I went on a bus tour of the Giant's Causeway and other nearby Northern Ireland sites. I'll just let the photos speak for themselves when I upload them. The Chinese couple ended up being on the same tour, which was pretty funny. I didn't really talk to them, though, because only the wife (I assume they were married) could speak broken English. There was a friendly Australian girl, maybe a few years older than me, from the same hostel on the same tour, so we sat next to each other on the bus and talked. Most of the people were quite a bit older than us, which sort of necessitated our bonding.

This morning, I got up and did a "black cab tour" of Belfast. They tours are so called for the taxis you get driven around in. Three of us in the hostel, including the same Australian girl, took the same tour. The drivers of these taxis are usually men who grew up in Belfast during "The Troubles." Our driver, Paddy, grew up on the Catholic side of things. He went over the fascinating history of the Troubles, as we drove around, stopping at various historical sites and many of the famous murals. I took pictures of those too. I don't remember all of the history, but I remember more than what I want to write tonight. Look it up on Wikipedia or something. I'll post pictures with descriptive captions later (or never).

After the tour, I got my stuff together at the hostel, got lunch, got on a bus, and headed to Dublin.

After a bus ride through miles of rolling green hills and farmlands, I got to Dublin at around 4. Elliane's flight didn't come in until 9, so I spent a few hours exploring the center of the city on foot and eating dinner. I took pictures. Some highlights were Trinity College (I'll be back to see the Book of Kells soon), St Stephen's Green Park, and the giant spire thing. Photos to follow.

I waited around for Elliane at the hostel. She came about an hour ago (so like 10:45ish). She's super tired, so she just went to bed. The plan is to wake up tomorrow and see Dublin!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tortoise Wedding Poem

I meant to post the transcript of this poem ages ago. Here is the poem that the "poet laureate" of Corpus Christi said at the tortoise wedding a month or so ago.

The Tortoise-keeper sheds a single tear
The Spring has come! That blesséd time of year
When tortoises are wed, for Foxe and Oldham
Have found short stumpy arms in which to hold ‘em.
Behold! The blossom drifts upon the breeze
Its soft confetti falls from verdant trees -
Nature’s children all are shedding
Silken tears – begin the wedding!

For the purpose of the gathering of denizens of Corpus
Is the sweetest kind of marriage – matrimony of a Tortoise.
The JCR’s brought Alex in to give the pair away
For the marriage of two tortoises (even if they’re gay)
Is one the College venerates and President endorses
So let the wedding-feast begin! And sing: “Here comes the Tortoise!”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The End Approaches

Earlier today, I realized that the end of the quarter is right around the corner. I have approximately two weeks left in this place, which may or may not be nearly enough time (but that's nearly always how these things go, I find). That said, I feel like I have done quite a lot with the time I have spent here so far, so I think, when the end of this term comes, I will be satisfied with the quarter. I can't say the same for every other quarter at Stanford. I have seen some great things, I have learned some fascinating things, I have challenged myself in a variety of ways, I have had memorable experiences, I have met wonderful people, and I have grown in ways I cannot yet put my finger on. I don't think I can ask for too much more than that. I can say all of those things now, and my quarter is not even over.

Still, I'm not done here. Today I made a list of the things I want to do over the next 14 or so days. Basically, I'm planning on putting the pedal to the metal for a couple weeks, and then sailing off to Ireland on June 25ish. Here's the list:

1) Finish school work (~10 days worth)
i. Hartree-Fock problem set
ii. Quantum Theory of Radiation problem set
iii. Jews in London research paper
iv. Pubs in Oxford research project (more on this later, probably)

2) Visit the Lake District (happening almost for sure next weekend)

3) Show Lawrence around
i. London
ii. Oxford

4) Make Ireland plans

5) Pack everything

6) Find place to store luggage

Radcliffe Science Library Paper

Here is the paper I wrote a week or so ago on the history and architecture of the Radcliffe Science Library. I chose the RSL as the building I wanted to research and write on because I visit it fairly often to look at physics books I can't get anywhere else. I also pass it every week on my way to my tutorials in the Physics building. On top of that, it is a nice looking building. That seemed like reason enough. Also, as a bonus to online readers, I've included maybe twice as many pictures in this version of the paper as in the version I handed in to Dr. Tyack. Enjoy!

The Radcliffe Science Library

The Radcliffe Science Library, a cornerstone for the Oxford faculties of science, is an impressive, L-shaped building on the corner of Parks and South Parks Roads. It’s stone facing and sheer size mark it as a building of import, while its style gives it an air of refinement appropriate for a library. From the outside, its two separate wings are identifiable.

The building’s history dates back to the death of  Dr. John Radcliffe, a physician, in 1714. Part of his will stipulated “The building of a library in Oxford”[1], among many other philanthropic endeavors through which his name is known around Oxford. The original Radcliffe Library was established in the Radcliffe Camera in 1749 as a library separate from the Bodleian[2]. After 1811, the Library began focusing on collecting literature in medicine and natural science[3]. The Library moved into the first floor of the University Museum, next to its present location, in 1861, opening up the Radcliffe Camera as a reading room for the Bodleian[4]. It remained there, content until it began running out of shelf room at the end of the nineteenth century. It was then that work began on establishing a building for the Radcliffe Library.


The site for the library was chosen to be next to its previous housing, the University Museum, where faculty members were studying and teaching science at the time. Adjacent to the Museum was also the chemistry laboratory, which can still be seen today. This area and the area surrounding it, south of the University Parks, would develop into a large science area, with many additional science and engineering buildings being built nearby in the first half of the twentieth century[5]. The 1937 map, Figure 2, shows the Library’s position in the southwest corner of the science area.

Jackson Wing

The original building for the Radcliffe Science Library is today called the Jackson wing, named after its famous architect, Thomas Graham Jackson. The building was built to house the science and medicine collection that, in the 1890s, was outgrowing the University Museum. When “all possible modes of storage by galleries and extra cases were wellnigh exhausted,”[6] the Draper’s Company, a philanthropy interested in social and educational reform[7], stepped in to fund a new building. The Company hired Jackson and, in 1901, presented the new building, shown in Figure 3, to the University.
Thomas Graham Jackson was a logical, safe choice for the project. Around the turn of the century, Jackson was the architect in vogue around the University of Oxford, and, later, Cambridge. He had already built a plethora of buildings around the town, including the iconic Examination Schools and Bridge of Sighs. The Radcliffe Science Library was one of his final two buildings at Oxford[8].

The Jackson Wing is a Grade II historical building[9], and for good reason. The structure is imposing, with tall windows, columns, arches, and buttresses. The building was built in a “characteristically mongrel style, part Gothic and part Renaissance”[10]. The main features of the building are the repeating tall windows separated by tall supporting buttresses, reminiscent of the University’s many Gothic buildings. The windows are framed by strong Doric pilasters and circular arches, incorporating Renaissance styles into the building. The old southern entrance to the building, now on South Parks Road, shows the Renaissance style even more distinctly. Above the doorway are windows framed by two large Doric pilasters. The upper windows are separated by Ionic columns bridged by a semi-circular arch. The façade is capped by a plain, circular pediment in the Doric order. 
Though a twentieth-century building, the interior was laid out in the traditional style of the older Oxford libraries. The long, rectangular rooms have central walkways with bookshelves extending out from the walls symmetrically on either side. The bookshelves are separated by desks for studying. This contrasts with more logical, modern library layouts, where the books are in the center of the room and the desks surround the books on the outside.

Worthington Wing

By the early 1930s, the Radcliffe Science Library was again running out of room for its rapidly growing collection of scientific works[11]. In 1931, a University commission wrote,
“…the present system is well adapted to the needs of workers in science. But more space is wanted at once for readers. More accommodation in the book-store will be necessary in about ten years’ time, and this period would be reduced if those new science books that are now left in the central Library were stored here. More accommodation for the staff is desirable…We recommend that the existing buildings be extended towards Parks Road and northward along it, so that the extended building will be roughly L shaped.”[12]
The proposed plan, different from the end product, is shown in Figure 7. The curators of the Bodleian approved the extension, estimated to cost them £49,000, and hired Hubert Worthington to design the building. The project was opened by the Princess Royal in 1934[13]. In total, it cost “little more than £40,000”[14], far under budget.
Sir Hubert Worthington was “the most prolific architect in Oxford of the 1930s”[15]. He was a lecturer on architecture in Oxford who had earlier worked with Edwin Lutyens[16]. Worthington’s first building in Oxford was the extension, and it “epitomized his…style”[17].

The Wing, like its older counterpart, looks imposing and important, but in a much different way. Geoffrey Tyack writes that it is “influenced by contemporary Dutch and Scandinavian models”[18]. Its siding, punch-faced Bladon rubble[19], is rougher than that of the Jackson Wing. The building features few ornaments. It has complementary, tall windows, also framed by arches, but without any Gothic or Classical styling. The windows are thin and plainer, using no stone tracery. Its interior also complements the Jackson wing, employing a similar floor plan, modeled on the traditional Oxford colleges. Worthington added circular vaults to the ceiling between the bookshelves, but left the central corridor ceiling flat.
Gill Doors

A notable feature of the 1934 extension are the wooden sliding doors carved by Eric Gill. In 1901, Gill had been commissioned to carve the  name “Radcliffe Library” on the South Parks Road entrance to the Jackson wing[20]. In 1935, he was commissioned again to design oak relief panels for the doors to the Rare Books Room. The doors, shown in Figure [], depict six famous Oxford scientists – Roger Bacon, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, William Harvey, Sir Christopher Wren, and Johann Jacob Dillenius.

Lankester Room and Main Stacks

The collections of the library continued to grow, and, in 1975, another expansion was completed. This extension went two floors deep underneath the Worthington Wing as well as the adjacent car park and lawn. The bottom floor is book storage. Above that is the Lankester Room, a large reading room named after its architect, J. Lankester[21].

2005 Connection and Alterations
In 2005, the Library added a connection to bridge the floors of the Jackson and Worthington wings and moved the entrance to its present location. The connection is a simple, modern staircase that links the unaligned floors of the two buildings. The staircase is cased in clear glass, giving it a touch of a modern look but, mainly, not calling attention to itself or significantly clashing with the other two wings. The connection preserves some of the detailing of Jackson’s exterior, including his buttresses and columns.

The current building remains as serious and imposing as ever. The two wings, featuring timeless Classicism, traditional Gothic, and slightly modern, unornamented stylings combine to form a feeling of austerity. The building preserves the look and feel of Oxford while being entirely functional as a modern science library. The buildings exterior and interior cleanness, relative to Oxford buildings, fits with its role as a center for the scientific community. So, while it is not nearly the most elaborate or complex work of architecture, it can claim a sort of recognized, but unassuming, beauty that blends in seamlessly with Oxford and makes sense given its simple purpose – keeping scientific books, students, and researchers. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


The first day of Shavuot just finished. The past thirty or so hours have been pretty excellent.

Shavuot, like most Jewish holidays, started with an evening prayer service at the synagogue, the Oxford Jewish Centre on Richmond Street. The service started at 7:30 (I got there a bit late). When the service got out, I stood outside the sanctuary and talked to the few people I knew. There were three or four people I had met at the Passover at the beginning of the term and Zohar Atkins, Ari's brother and a Bronfman alum.

While I was talking to Zohar, I see a girl in the corner of my eye, and I hear, "Benamy? Yashar?" I turned around and didn't believe who I saw. "It's Leah!" she said. And I just said, "Yeah! Oh my God!" [or something to that effect]. It was Leah Breslow, my counsellor, or madricha, from my summer in Bronfman! Except for the Bronfman fall retreat, my senior year of high school, I hadn't seen her since the program ended. She had come to the Jerusalem Bayit once, but I think I must have been out of town because neither of us remember seeing each other. Long story short: she's traveling around Europe, contacted Zohar, and was staying with him at Oxford for Shavuot.

We spent the rest of the kiddush and dinner catching up. Obviously, since it has been several years, there was too much to tell. She's had a fascinating few years since Bronfman, and it was great to hear some of her stories. The main story is that she's been bouncing from place to place for a while and has yet to find her place. Before my Bronfman year (but after hers), she studied in a seminary in Israel, as girls from her community tend to do. Afterwards she stayed in Israel, working at the Third Temple Institute and studying at Bar-Ilan. She went from there back home to Toronto. She studied some more and then moved in with some friends to a place in the city. She was having a wonderful year. Some stuff happened with an boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend and Africa, she got some tickets to Europe, and she's been traveling half-aimlessly for the last nine weeks. Then she thought Oxford would be a cool place to be for Shabbat. I'm leaving out a lot of details, but, main point, it's really amazing how these things happen.

It's tradition, for Shavuot, to study Jewish stuff all night. I had just completed my tutorial and History of London presentation, so I don't have anything due for a week, and I didn't have an excuse not to stay up all night studying. The night progressed with some lectures. The first lecture had to do with the meaning of Mt. Sinai being mentioned alongside the description of shmita laws in Leviticus. The guy was a horrible public speaker, so I got some of the main points but didn't understand it all.

The second lecture was much better. The lecturer was an Israeli rabbi, and his talk was titled "Wings to Fly With - Megilat Ruth as a flying manual." This was definitely my favorite lecture of the night. He basically tied together a bunch of descriptions of humans, angels, heaven, and Abraham to describe how kind, loving deeds can, in some spiritual sense, allow us to fly higher than angels. He brought in a lot of beautiful visual imagery of how we are limited physically from doing all the kind things we would like to do. There was a Kabbalistic description of how the gemilut chasadim build up inside us, flowing out of our fingertips, but sometimes can't flow out fast enough. He said that we should be discouraged when we cannot accomplish all the good that we wish, but we should let it keep building up inside us. The spiritual buildup inside has the power, he sort of says, to lift us up so that we can "fly." There were parts that were a bit, maybe cheesy is the right word, for a scientist to listen to, but it was still beautiful.

The third lecture was just all right. This guy, a lecturer of Jewish Studies or something in Oxford, tried to connect the adventurous tales of Rabbi bar bar Hana to Harry Potter, but he seemed incapable of staying on the topic for more than two minutes before wandering off on many tangents that I guess he found interesting. It was more entertaining than the first guy, but I wasn't really sure what the point was. I think his end message I got was something along the lines of, "Some stories are ridiculous to the point where they are pure fantasy. Nevertheless, there is value in enjoying them, and very important, beautiful lessons can be drawn out of them from interpretations as creative as the stories." He made a half-hearted attempt to draw us in with some mentions of Harry Potter, but I didn't really get that either. I liked it, but I didn't think I got anything new out of that message.

After three lectures, it was well past midnight, and I was pretty much done with lectures. There were some more discussion-y things, but I spent the rest of the night talking and listening to people. Mainly, I talked with Leah, Zohar, an older man who had studied Materials Science at Cambridge, and a girl named Jackie (I think) (Another ridiculous coincidence - this girl grew up in southern California, was really involved in JSA through high school, and knew Kai Lukoff and other Petaluma people through it!). We talked about all sorts of things. My memory is a bit hazy - it got really late, and I had only slept maybe 5 hours the night before. I know we talked about making life decisions, mass violence, differences between the UK and the USA, and a bunch of other good stuff. Some of it involved Judaism; some of it didn't (directly). In any case, the night went on.

I got second and third winds, thanks to some Ben & Jerry's at 2 or 3 am, a couple cups of Coke, and a bottle of Sainsbury's whiskey. That didn't keep me from feeling totally exhausted during the Shacharit and Musaf services, which started around 4 or 4:30 am and went until after 6 am. I barely made it onto the bimah to do the glillah for the first Torah. Somehow I did, I ate a bagel with some cream cheese and lox (I'm starting to actually like lox. I wonder if this means that I'm starting to become a real Jew... I'm not sure what that would mean either...), and then walked home. I was asleep by 7:30 am. I haven't been this ahead on school-work in ages, nor have I been up this late/early in ages. Ironic how that works out.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Walk Around Oxfordshire

Around a month ago, Heidi Thorsen, if I remember right, found a book in the study room called TimeOut: Country Walks: 52 Walks Within Easy Reach of London. It's an awesome book full of day hikes, one for each week of the year. We said we were going to start doing them, but we didn't.

Sunday morning a couple weeks ago, I rounded up everyone I could, who amounted to Christine and Kendra, both reluctant, and got them to go on one of the walks with me.

The walk went out west past the train station to the River Isis. We walked alongside the river for a while, crossing bridges and getting passed by crew boats. The trail led us out into the countryside, and we eventually came out next to Port Meadow, a giant open meadow a couple miles long with grazing cows and rivers on both sides of it.

We took a detour to the west to check out the little town of Binsey. We walked through an inn and onto a street next to thatched-roof houses and pastures with lots of grazing sheep. After walking for a while, we didn't get to the town, so we turned around and walked back, mostly unsuccessful. We got back to the trail next to Port Meadow and kept going until we got to the Trout Inn, where we stopped for lunch.

The Trout Inn was a super-cute, very popular little place. It is an old country inn that has been converted into a restaurant. The inside is all wooden, with low ceilings and lots of leather chairs. There's also a nice bar. The inside was full at first, so we got seated outside. The outside patio seating is next to a little offshoot of one of the rivers with a small waterwheel and waterfall. There is a bridge to the other bank of the river, where they keep a garden and a bunch of peacocks.

First the wind came, and then the rain began. We were under an umbrella, but it didn't do much with the wind, so we took shelter inside. The place looked full, but we eventually crowded around a small table meant for two.

Eventually the food came and was really delicious. We each ordered a different kind of pizza; mine was some sort of cheese and mushrooms. I got some pear cider to go with it. Brilliant.

After a long lunch, Christine and Kendra called a taxi to pick them up, since they both had a lot of work they had to get done and it was already 2pm or so. So I did the other half of the loop myself.

The walk led me through a little more of the town of Wolvercote and into Port Meadows.

I walked through the meadows for a while.

Eventually I reached the other side of the meadows and continued along the River Cherwell.

There is a long section of the river with tons of these houseboats just tied up on the bank. This is one of the less interesting ones, actually. I should have taken pictures of some of the more interestingly-decorated ones. Some of them weren't too well kept, though.

The river led me back to Oxford. I walked through some neighborhoods with old houses until I got to Wolfson College and the University Parks. The building pictured above is somewhere near the Pitt-Rivers Museum or Keble College. I'm not sure exactly what it was.