Vacation in the south

There is too much to update for now.  We’ve been visiting a lot of Paris, especially the fun neighborhoods and museums.  After nearly 4 weeks we’re going out of the city for vacation to see some new things in Lyon and Avignon plus what every we come across along the way.  Should be a lot of fun.

In other news, work is progressing.  I’ve submitted a paper to publish (my 3rd as first author), and am working on the next two.  Paris is great, and we’ve had fantastic weather for the most part (a big departure from last year when it rained 90 of the 100 days in was here).  I’m looking forward to moving to Boulder, Co at the end of May.  That means a lot more work between now and then.


2 months down

I’ve been here 2 months now! It’s hard to believe.

Things are going really well. My research is advancing nicely. Mostly I’ve been writing and running simulations. The paper is done for the most part. I’m just waiting for edits from a coauthor, and I’ll submit. The simulations all seem to support the work I’m doing with my cloud survey, which is very nice. It’s a happy day when your simulations match your observations – at least part of what you are doing is not wrong!

I’ve started teaching myself Python. It’s a computer programming language. I’ve put off learning a language (well) for too long, and now I’ve got to get this done. Progress is good, and the book I have makes learning easy. It’s called Learning Python for absolute beginners, and each chapter introduces only a few new things, so I’m never biting off more than I can chew.

My French is coming along. I’ve been reading a lot. As my vocabulary grows I watch more movies and TV. I do a conversation exchange with a native French speaker. My classes are going fine. They are not enough though, and I will take more classes in the spring. I feel like I could learn more with more exposure – hence living here.

As far as everything else goes, my life is pretty tame. I work a lot, probably more hours than in Austin. Since I live so close to work – it’s just 100 meters or so – I don’t spend as much time away from home or work. Of course in Paris, it’s my fault if I don’t get out. Still, motivating myself to walk around along in cold, wet weather is not as easy as I would like.

There is not much else to discuss. Today is my mom’s 60th birthday (Happy Birthday Mom!). I’ve already called, and the post card is on the way. Thanksgiving is next week. I’m supposed to eat with the other Fulbrighters in Paris. It will be good to have people I can talk to about such an important holiday. Europeans only vaguely know about it. One colleague complains that the US stock market is closed on Thanksgiving. That’s the only reason he knows about it at all.

So, life is good and everything is progressing. I’m looking forward to May when I can start the job at SwRI in Boulder. They decided to hire me even after taking this position in Paris. I am a luck guy! Summer in Colorado should be better than winter in Paris. Fingers crossed.

I moved!

Out with the old, in with the new. I moved, basically, and the new apartment is great. It’s a very short walk from my office (detrimental actualy) but very close to the river and some of my favorite views Nothing at all to complain about. I liked old location too, but I can get there quickly enough, and I have more time now to read and study. Life is good.

Here are a few shots from the rooftop of the previous place. And yes, it was very steep, and yes, it was very dangerous. To take these I stood on a ledge not more than 10 inches wide, below that was the steepest roof you can imagine, and below that was only another tiny ledge before a sheer fall 8 floors. Still, worth the effort.

From the center of town you can see (in order) the Eiffel Tower; Opera; Sacre Coeur; Defense; Notre Dame

Then Mont Parnasse, Pantheon, and Napolean’s Tombe; and a bunch of cool rooftops

I made a panorama you might enjoy. Click this link to see. Also, click any of the thumbnails above for larger images.


And in with the new. This place is more modern than that last one. I’m pretty sure that the architect was a child and had never lived on his own before. The kitchenette is “small on everything but frustration,” and the bathroom only makes sense if you want a lot of water to get on your solid oak floor.

The view isn’t bad though. I can see the river, Tour Saint Jacques, and if I stick my head out far enough part of Notre Dame appears. Not bad. I’m also building my French book library. Some are borrowed, so I’ve got more than enough to read for this year.

That weird shaped building is the Institute of the Arabic World. It’s a little odd considering that this is primarily a science institution. Still, not a bad place to live.

France woes

France can be so screwed up. Here’s the story. I opened a bank account 3 weeks ago. In the mail they sent me a “welcome to HSBC” note, a “card of familiarity,” a debit PIN, and a “secret code” for the website. Yes, they sent me 4 pieces of mail. No problem. I didn’t have a phone at the time, so I didn’t give them a phone number. Seems okay right?

Last week I bought a SIM for my phone. Today I tried to add credit. In order for them to process the payment I have to get the bank to authorize the payment, which involves them sending me a text with a secret code. Now there’s a problem. My bank doesn’t have my cell number. So I sign up for the bank’s online services. But they won’t let me add a phone number. BECAUSE THEY’RE FRANCE. I have to print a document and go to the original branch where I opened the account on the other side of town.

Never mind that, all I really want to do is charge my phone card. So I go to use an American credit card, which has a different type of authentication. AND THE PHONE SITE SAYS “YOU MAY ONLY CHARGE YOUR PHONE ONCE EVERY 24 HOURS” What is wrong with this place????

Je suis en retard

I am late in posting! Well, there is no fire, and my feet don’t feel hot, but I think I should be able to post more often.

Things are going well. Work is progressing and accelerating. I’m happy about that. Th government shutdown didn’t help. Not that it affected me directly, but my attention was too much focused on the news. I found and installed a program on my computer that only lets me read the news for a few minutes per day, so my life has become much more productive.

Since I arrived 5 weeks ago several things have changed. We’ve already lost two hours of daylight. Of course that happens a lot in Fall. The weather has changed, but not significantly. It rains nearly every day, but we also get long bouts of sunshine, which makes me quite happy. Of course I’m inside a lot, especially during daylight hours. I’m trying to force myself out of the office a little during the day. So far it’s only been a little, but if take my book with me, it’s easy enough to decompress and maybe catch a few rays. I have no idea how people get enough vitamin D here.

I’ve also become much more accustomed to living in a small space. It took me a while to organize everything so that it was an efficient use of what I have. Thankfully that worked out. Of course I move next Friday, so it is not to last. I think I’ll miss this place. The neighborhood is very quiet and well connected with buses and metros. I have access to a lot of restaurants and can walk anywhere. Those last two things will actually be more true at the new place, but it won’t be as quiet or well connected.

I eat a lot less meat. It’s expensive here, especially beef. I never was much for eating chicken. That leaves pork and fish, and I’ve really taken up eating fish. They serve it in the cafeteria several times a week, and I cook it at home pretty often. I even do vegetarian on a regular basis.

I’ve discovered a wine that I really enjoy. Not that I don’t enjoy most wines, but there is one that knocks my socks off. It’s only €7.00. That doesn’t sound like a lot to someone in the US. We’re used to paying $7 for the cheapest, run of the mill wines. Those cost less than €4 here. Really good wines can go for more, but the French would never pay €40 for a bottle, even at a restaurant. And I’d put my €7 bottle up against any $40 bottle that you can find.

I’m reading a lot. I’m about 1/3 of the way through Harry Potter #1. It goes really fast, even in French. I was surprised at how easy it is to read. I read Peter Pan before this, and it took a lot longer. Of course it was written a long time ago and translated into French early. Next is 20,000 leagues under the sea, but in its original language! I have a version condensed for children, so it should be a little easier than the adult book. I’ve got other Jules Verne as well. I’m saving those for when I’ve got a better grasp of the language.

As far as that goes, my French has improved significantly since arriving. Reading has helped, so have the 3 hours of class per week. Rosetta Stone makes me pronounce things, so I’m learning on that front too. I think next semester I’ll spring for a more expensive and more extensive class. It’s worth it if I can really learn the language. The biggest change is my ability to hear different sounds. So many words sound alike. It’s really important sometimes to hear minute distinctions. I dare you to copy this into a translator “dessus, dessous”. You’ll see what I mean.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll update more soon.

3 weeks

I’ve been here three weeks now. After the big transition, it is becoming more comfortable, more homey. I’ve got a routine and benefit from friends that I made last year. That’s been the biggest improvement over last year – knowing some people. I’m not an outsider, and we do things to hang out. Three Fridays in a row now I’ve got out with coworkers. This Friday Aymeric, Charline, Lluis, and Fushim joined me for Japanese food and wine afterward. They got to see the tiny apartment, and it was fun hanging out. Last year was nothing like this, and I’m thankful for the change.

Another advancement is the weather. While it’s cold, highs in the 50s all week, we’ve had better weather. Of course it rained 4 out of the last 6 days, but that is still an improvement over last year. Any my run today was nice.

I’m reading a lot. Since arriving I’ve finished 3 books and am halfway through another. They are all for children, but each time I pick a longer book with fewer pictures. It’s great, and I’m learning a lot. I still do Rosetta Stone, but towards the end (5th of 5 disks) the learning really slows down. Either that or it never picked up, and I can handle more now. I’m looking forward to finishing, even as my opinion of the software has changed. It also helps having coworkers to talk to in French, and I’m getting to where I can have longer conversations. The people I know can be very patient.

Some of the things I’ve done to adapt to living in a tiny apartment may seem odd to someone in a big house. I have a clothes washer, which is awesome. Next month I’ll move to a place without, and I’ll have to walk 6 or 7 blocks carrying all of my luggage and wait 2-3 hours while everything gets clean (more blog posts then). Now I load the washing machine every night. It’s tiny, so it can only hold a few days worth of clothes, but that’s better than having a pile on the floor. They dry on a rack in about 24 hours, so that gives me maximum floor space. I also go food shopping a lot more often. My fridge can’t hold more than 2-3 days worth of food, but even if it could, I need to buy bread every other day (no preservatives in this fantastic French bread), and meat is too expensive to let waste. It helps that between my house and work I pass several supermarkets. And by supermarkets, I mean stores that have the basic needs but not a good selection. You won’t find a Kroger or HEB here!

Work is going slowly. I spent a lot of time last week preparing slides for my colleagues in Boulder. They are advocating for an extended mission to keep our instrument turned on. They need input from the team to keep that up, and I have several things to contribute. Now I’ll go back to writing my south pole paper, which is already well past due but nearing completion (I hope!). Aymeric has set me up with a work computer, besides the laptop, so I can now begin running simulations and checking the output. This is important and the reason I’m here. There is plenty more to do, but those are the big things.

I’m eating well, probably too well. Being surrounded by Japanese restaurants is always a temptation, but I find pleasure in cooking and eat at home most nights. The kitchen is small but well enough stocked with cooking utensils that I don’t need much. Glad I brought my good knife though 🙂

Well, it’s time for more tea and some good reading.

First post from Paris

I thought my first post from Paris would be better than this one.  I’ve been taking a lot of walks and saving photos just for that, but that will have to wait.

Tonight, on the way home from a movie with my coworkers I was startled to see some people fighting on a side street.  As I turned to look, it became apparent that the one losing was a small girl.  She was in a headlock, and her hair was a mess.  There may have been punching.  I turned around and found another guy to ask him for help in separating the two.

He and his companions came over quickly but wouldn’t do anything.  It turned out that all of the 5 were friends and that they were okay with the guy beating up this girl.  All of them were teenagers and really concerned.

I still wanted to separate the two fighters, but they stopped me.  The girl was on drugs, and her friend was restraining her from hurting herself or the others.  This was a lot to take in, so I watched, but my presence was enough to break the cycle of fighting.  The girl gets up and starts yelling and throwing things at the guy, who then grabs her again to stop the onslaught.

I suggested that we call the police, but everyone else was adamant that we don’t.  They were more worried about getting into trouble than their friend.  I stayed long enough to make sure that their story held up and decided that I could do no good.  It was harder to leave than to stay.  I really wanted to help, but the only assistance I could offer would be to get an authority, which was exactly what they were trying to avoid.  I guess I could have brought them some water.  They were after that and cigarettes.

I’m living in a very safe and quiet (for Paris) neighborhood.   Most people here at 11PM are on a date to a fancy restaurant or just heading home from a  show.  I didn’t expect to see 5 teenagers, none of them older than 18, fighting in the street.  All of this happened, and no one else walking by offered any help or even tried to interrupt what was happening.

Countdown to Paris

I am moving to Paris in one week!  Everything is happening so soon.  Of course I’m anxious and excited.  Right now the biggest worry is finding a place to live until November.  Hopefully that will be taken care of soon.  After that, there are a few more things to take care of in Austin.

I’m going to miss a lot from Austin, of course: family, friends and enemies, my house and lifestyle, my motorcycle, …  It’s all moving so quickly.

Next week I can have this for dinner, and no one will give me grief!

Here is a turn of events

I was offered a job in Colorado, and I accepted.  This is great!  I have a job doing exactly what I want to do, at a great company, and in a great location.  I couldn’t ask for more.  I even had another great offer, which gave me a tough but good decision to make.  It felt good to be in demand.

Then I got some interesting news.  I was listed as an alternate for another position. Besides the other two offers, I had also applied for a Fulbright grant.  It was a long shot.  Last year I applied and was rejected.  This year my application was a little better: I spoke more French, was temporarily living in France doing the work that I proposed, and didn’t have a competing scholarship.  The US government only allows one scholarship of this type at a time, and I already had one from NASA.

Thinking that “alternate” meant reapply later, I put that out of my head.  That, along with my Ph.D. defense, graduation, and moving had me thinking about it less and less.  I had totally forgotten about the Fulbright – until about a week ago.  Then the good news came.  I was chosen!  They promoted my application, giving me the coveted spot!  What could be better?

Or, what could put me in a more difficult spot?  I’ve got the job I wanted, the job that they created for me.  It pays well and has lots of long term potential.  Now I have a different opportunity.  It doesn’t have the benefits of good pay or a career track, but it has its own benefits.  First, the Fulbright is very prestigious.  There are very few to go around.  Furthermore, alumni of the program have bright futures with opportunities open to them that wouldn’t be otherwise. At least that is what I hear.  I’ve only known two people to get one before.  One is doing it at this moment.  The other is a professor at UT later in his career.

Another reason to accept the award is that I get to move back to Paris.  I’ll be able to finish the things that I started.  I still want to do the work that was proposed, work figuring out how the atmosphere shaped and changed with the ice caps of Mars.  In Colorado I won’t be able to do that.  I will have lost that cutting edge that I sharpened and honed.  Maybe the work will be done by someone else?  I’ll get credit for figuring out what the secret was, but someone else will get credit for solving the problem.  I don’t want that.

Last, but certainly not least, Paris offers me a great opportunity to reach one of my life goals.  I want to speak French.  Right now my language skills are poor, too poor for someone who already lived there 3+ months.  I will be able to take classes (something I thought I would be done with when I finished the Ph.D.) and have more time with locals.  Small as this is when considering the other reasons, it is important to me.

I’m going to take the Fulbright.  For every reason I listed above and more that I don’t know about yet it is the best thing for me and my future.  I’ve been given a gift, one that isn’t offered to many people.  Declining would be a mistake, a bigger mistake than postponing or even losing the job in Colorado.  I was really looking forward to that job.  It was one I had wanted for years.  Hopefully it will be there when I get back.

Packing today

I won’t be home for another 11 days, but it’s time to pack. On Friday I leave my apartment. I’ll head to London for a week and leave a suitcase in my office. After London it’s back to Paris for one night, then goodbye Europe.

Packing is a little sad. It just hit me this morning that already more than three months have passed, and I’m in the end game of my visit. A lot of things were accomplished while here, probably (certainly) more than would have happened if I had stayed. I say probably because other things would have been done sooner, but not necessarily better. Working with Aymeric Spiga at LMD has been a great experience, on that will fuel our friendship and collaboration for years to come. We’re already planning two papers out of the work we did with more likely to follow.

I’m going to miss Europe, but it’s a good thing. That means I enjoyed myself here. And that’s really true. Living in Paris meant I could see and do things that were only dreams most of my life. I was also able to visit old friends and make new ones while here. I’m glad for that. I’m also glad for the opportunity to learn and practice French. While there is a long way to go before speaking French well, I’ve got a solid footing which will facilitate my next go around. That’s how I learned Spanish, so it’s a good strategy.

Even though I’m going to miss Europe, I’m looking forward to going home more. Home is Austin, where my house and motorcycle are. It’s where I plan to plant a garden this spring and turn in my dissertation this April. I’m ready to be physically active again, and that means playing Ultimate Frisbee with friends and continuing my Kung Fu lessons. I should test for brown belt this summer. I’m also ready to be able to run again without interruption of cars or traffic lights. And maybe lastly, I’m ready for some warmth. Paris in fall is wet, cloudy, and chilly. Even though Texas will be that way for January and some of February, it’ll be warm far sooner than in Paris, and it is likely much drier.

As I pack I’m reflecting on my imminent departure, one that seemed so far off in September and thankfully didn’t go by too fast. Europe has been great, and Texas will soon.