Research · Socialising

Week 21: The week everything went wrong, plus #GatesGivesBack and antipodean snacks

I should have been satisfied with my work this week; my additional simulations finished on Sunday morning, but it instead turned out to me a tormentous. In theory, all that should have needed doing was to copy my results from the server onto my computer and run the scripts I had run hundreds of times before and get the nice plots at the end. But it turned out not to be so. Firstly, two data files which should have been compatible with each other turned out not to be, then a set of my simulations inexplicably appeared to be degenerate when they shouldn’t be, I sent off a different set of data files to one of my collaborators, but it turned out to be the wrong ones and the ones he returned were the wrong ones also, MATLAB was inexplicably crashing running scripts it had run perfectly well before, one of the data files was empty for no apparent reason and the script had to be rewritten, some of the data had to be analysed on a different computer because of some underlying problem with the architecture of the system, and all of that was just Monday. I spent Tuesday trying to fix them, or at least get around them. I came up with a rather elegant work around for the hardest problem (the incompatible data files), but one key variable wasn’t saved in the place where the documentation said it would be. So I gave in and wrote a script to redo the last step in every model, which kept failing (partially due to my self-replicating inability to write coherent code when angry), and eventually took ages to run (I would later optimise it).

Wednesday night was another Gates Council organised event: To celebrate (the day after) Valentine’s Day, the Social officers had organised a social event in the GSCR. It was loosely themed around the theme of Valentine’s Day, but mostly involved some icebreaking activities then eating an egregious number of pink cupcakes.

Finally, everything broke on Thursday when some plots finally came through, only to realise that everything was not quite right again, and I needed to redo half of my simulations. Again. This would take another week at best, and all I wanted was for it to be over and resolved.

I left the department early on Thursday to go to Tesco in Newmarket to shop for some slightly rarer ingredients for some baking I was planning. Following the previous week’s brunch and the associated discussion of pikelets, Annalise had determined to cook everyone pikelets. Not wanting to not contribute, I had determined to bake lamingtons, another antipodean snack. That meant I had to stock my cupboard with, among other things, desiccated coconut and cocoa powder. I cooked up a sponge cake on Friday evening, and left it overnight.

But late on Thursday, I was feeling rather depressed about the status of my work, so I went out for a stress-relieving walk until I was invited by Annalise to a stress-relieving origami session in the Trinity MCR. It was successful in taking my mind off things, but I didn’t succeed in making anything super creative. It did calm me down, though.

On Saturday, it was time for the event that Alex, the Community officer, had been panicking about for weeks: the Gates Day of Service. The premise is that all of the Gates Scholars volunteer a day of their time to give back to charities in the local community. I was told to report to Wintercomfort, a charity which takes clothing donations to pass on to Cambridge’s sadly large homeless population. They had taken a shed-full of donations since November and needed to sort them into categories. After some effort finding the location (it was misplaced on Google maps, which threw off all of us, given we are millennials), we laid out some blankets and ferried clothing out of the shed, and sorted them into categories. There were about a dozen of us working throughout the morning, and we cleared a good two thirds of the shed. We would make up stories of the people based on the clothes they donated. The most amusing donation was probably an unworn Donald Trump signature branded business shirt (made in China) and the most unusual was a bag of bloodied clothing, which I assumed to be from an abattoir but others leapt to less honest conclusions.

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After, I returned home and attempted to cook up some sausage rolls. Unfortunately, the pastry I prepared was too moist, and hence struggled to roll them up effectively. That said, they went into the oven and came out tasty anyway. I took them out to the Unitarian church, were Council had organised a pot luck for those scholars who had spent the day volunteering. I helped set up the tables (I was early) and socialised over dinner. We had too much food so some was distributed to the needy around Cambridge.

I went home and iced and coated my lamingtons, before heading out again, this time to Robinson college. It was Eric’s birthday (another Gates scholar) and he had organised a get together in the Robinson bar. As often is the case at these events, I conversed with many people until it reached 11pm, when the bar closed and so we headed up to the MCR. I spent the rest of the night chatting with Danny, Kaitlin and Annalise (everybody else was probably a little to drunk to remember whether or not they came over to interrupt conversation briefly. A number of other people went out to a bop, only to return later in later and louder numbers. It turned out to be another late night, riding home on the deserted streets in the early morning.

On Sunday morning, I went out intending to go shopping, only to remember it was Sunday morning and nothing was open yet. So I just rode around for a while, and took a Skype call home whilst cycling. I can’t speak for the quality of the video, but at least family got to see a little more of Cambridge. Eventually, lunch came around, and it was time to present my lamingtons. I walked out to Trinity college, where Annalise was cooking pikelets in the MCR. People came and went, but across the afternoon there were probably a dozen and a half people who ate through the exorbitant number of pikelets and lamingtons, topped with a range of toppings from jams to honey to maple syrup. I spent the latter part of the afternoon at Joanna and Danny’s, who taught me how to knit, once again exhibiting their kind generosity.


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