Open Heart Surgery

For those of you who have been wondering, here are a few notes on various projects in the garden. You might recall (if you read my writings over on CV about a year ago on the subject) that I built a circulation system for the garden which drips water periodically at the roots of some of the plants. It has two control valves (one for the back and one for the front) that, after crawling around under the house with bits of string tied to my arms and a flashlight in my mouth, are connected by wired to a programmable timing device in the basement. Well this year saw me improve the system a little bit for the new season of heat.

I’d made one major silly mistake last year that as a physicist I should not have made. The pipes the run from the water supply to the pump (and are therefore under pressure all the time) were made of the same flexible black pvc as the rest of the system’s major arteries. most of the rest of the system is under leaves, dirt, or mulch, and therefore protected from the sun (and not under much pressure anyway) while this crucial section just sits there staring back at the sun all day. I happened to be home one day when the inevitable happened for the first time. The sun rapidly heated up and softened the pipes and the snug joints just slid open and there was water everywhere! If I was not home that day, hundreds of gallons of water would have been wasted (and poured into my foundations). Major design flaw. So I decided to do this year what I should have done then and replace the pipes with a heavier gauge white pvc, with secure joints.

I’d never done this before, and so I learned a lot that day. One of the things I love about this sort of project is how amazingly standardized all fixtures and fittings are. After wandering around the plumbing section of the hardware store for not too long, and consulting some sketches I’d made at home of what I wanted to do, it was pretty easy to get all I needed (various coupling joints, elbows, and lengths of pvc) to replace the old sections. Everything fits together snugly and one is reminded of ones childhood days of fun making things out of Lego, Mechano, and Better Builder (do I recall that latter correctly? does not seem to exist any more).

plumbing with pvcThere was some fun chemistry as well. I was puzzled for a while about how I was going to put threads on the plain pvc pipes and joints I’d picked out. First, the male and female parts did not seem like they wanted to go all the way into each other without a fight to make a secure joint, which was a worry. Also, there seemed to be no threading machine (to make screw joints), and I did not fancy the prospect of having to buy one, in case it was expensive. Silly me. There’s an entire system of chemistry that makes the joints secure! You paint Click to continue reading this post

Unite d’Habitation

On the 14th of July of this year, Bastille Day – the important French holiday – we inhabitants of the mathematics “monastery” at which I was staying in Luminy in the South of France (see a CV post about this here) were forced to wander out into the outside world. There was no food and no lectures, you see. So off to Marseille! The plan was to go up to have a look around the city and stay for the fireworks in the evening if we were not too exhausted. I was accompanied by Ilarion Melnikov (a postdoc at Chicago) and Claudine Chen (a postdoc at Penn State) initially, and the plan was to wander up to the city, and meet up with David Kutasov (professor at Chicago) to wander around the port.

I found Marseille a big surprise in one major respect, which in retrospect I should have anticipated. (1) It is huge. Larger than Paris geographically, and among France’s cities it is second only to Paris in population. I did not get that impression from walking around it. (2) Given fact (1), there are no great museums or galleries that you might expect for a city this size!

It’s quite remarkable in a way. I imagine it is because France’s organization may be even more highly centralized than I’d realised. Perhaps even more so than England was not so long ago, back in the day when if you wanted to see that type of thing you had to go up to the “big city”, London. Perhaps that’s the same here and now, given the Marseille observation (confirmed by locals, I hasten to add), but I should not generalize.

le corbusier buildingThe absence of big museums showing art from around the world, etc, is not a shortcoming in an of itself. That is not what I am saying. It was just interesting, as one has got more used to a much more decentralized model of how things are distributed in a country. What is just great about Marseille and the region is simply that it does not matter. The attitude seems to be: Just come, wander around the port, look at the work of the local artists here and there, swim in the nearby excellent beaches, and go find a good restaurant and sample the Bouillabaisse with a good beer or glass of wine. What more do you need from life? Well, when the temperature is high and the sky is blue, it is hard to disagree. Just do as the local do.

But there are, as with any city, hidden treasures. Click to continue reading this post


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