I’m going to try and be a bit better about regular updates about life, my work, and the Universe. Who knows how it’ll go, but here goes nothing. I’m considering publishing the research part as a standalone newsletter, since we’re rapidly approaching the next gravitational wave observing run, and I regret not keeping a diary during previous ones (though certainly during our O3 run I was rather pre-occupied with finishing my PhD work, writing my thesis, and then passing my viva!). I’m not exactly sure what this will turn into, but let’s see.

Things are also slightly odd at the moment; I’m working away from Glasgow in order to spend some time with family; I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that in the future, but it certainly is making a difference to the way that I work.

The Engineering Run approaches

This update’s jumping unashamedly into the deeply technical side of how gravitational wave observation operates. Things in LIGO (Virgo, and KAGRA) land right now are a hive of frenetic activity as we prepare for the start of an engineering run for the detectors. You can think of an engineering run as being a bit like a dress rehearsal for the main observing run, where we can see what works and what doesn’t work at every single stage. The process of detecting and then analysing gravitational waves comes at the end of an extensive process within the detectors themselves, and we use this time as a shake-down to make sure that everything links up and works together. We’ll go into this hoping that everything will work perfectly, but knowing that it probably won’t, so we’ll have a little time to tweak everything, and squash bugs to make sure we have a smooth time with the observing run. Looking forward we’re expecting to have a very long observing run through 2023 and 2024, so this time will be especially valuable.

This is the first time I’ve ever been directly involved in an engineering run, or especially close to the operational part of the process. I joined the collaboration during the engineering run prior to our first observing run, and then a mixture of lack of experience and my work being involved with other things meant that I never really had anything to do during them. Things have changed now though, and through a series of events which I’ve never fully documented, I now maintain the infrastructure for making sure that the observations made by the detectors are analysed properly. This used to be managed by humans, but in O3 it became clear that we’d become too good at making detections, and that we needed to automate things. This is even more true in O4, where we expect a lot more observations than before, and so we’ll need smoother and more reliable automation to be a part of the everyday workflow.

Asimov develops

In order to make sure all of this automation I’ve been leading the development of a software tool called asimov (named after the creator of robots, though there’s a little more backstory to the name and all sorts of other weird things about this package that I’ll get to sometime). I recently announced the release of version 0.4.0, but most of my work at the moment centres around preparation of the next two releases, which we’re hoping to have available in time for the engineering run. Right now we’re doing a lot of testing and internal review, but over the next couple of weeks I’ll try and give some information about what’s coming, as well as some tutorials on actually using asimov to set up your own analyses on real gravitational wave data.

The return of long bike rides

A few weeks ago I brought my bike across from Glasgow to Northern Ireland, where I’m spending a lot of my time at the moment. That’s given me the chance to spend a lot more time cycling than I have done all winter, as my family live in a very quiet part of the countryside. It also means that I’ve ended up joining the local cycling club, and joining them on their training rides; right now they’re training for a tour to Mallorca, and are deliberately seeking out hills. This suits me pretty well, since I’m training for the Etape Caledonia which is an 85-mile sportive. It’s a bit of a jump from the long sportives I did last year which both came in just a touch over 100-km.

I managed a 100-km ride with them on Sunday, so that bodes reasonably well, I hope?

The West Boathouse

Some people might be surprised that I was involved in this project, but for the last five years I’ve been helping to steer Clyde Amateur Rowing Club through the murky waters of getting our boathouse renovated. This week our club captain got the keys, and they’ve started moving boats in. Sadly I wasn’t around to help, or to see this major part of the club’s history, but I was there, at least, in spirit. When we moved out for the renovation in January 2021 the building leaked from more places than it was watertight, and there were, it turned out, serious structural problems in the foundations (and elsewhere). The renovation was carried out by Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, with several sources of funding, including the Heritage Lottery Fund. The biggest change for us, aside from staying dry inside the building, is that we’re cohabiting with our friends and rivals Clydesdale, and also Strathclyde University Boat Club. Clydesdale used to occupy the other half of the building, but following the renovation work the boathouse is no longer semi-detached.


This is a section for other stuff that doesn’t quite warrant its own headline.

I’ve been making my way through a few books lately; I’m around halfway through Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, Volume II, and I’ve been trying to get my travel-writing fix by reading Johnson and Boswell’s accounts of their tour to the Hebrides. I’ve just started the second volume of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, Caliban’s War. I’m making slow progress on books at the moment though; there are lots of other things to think about.

While I’m in NI I’ve also started trying my hand at a little Irish on Duolingo, and finding it to be a slightly confusing experience after spending three years on Scottish Gaelic.

Share Share Share