Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Oxford... land of oxen and fords....

Blog Update - 26 Dec 13

I write this from 36000 feet over Norway as I'm now flying to Finland, so I will post it from 0 feet. The airline does not yet have wi-fi which is probably a blessing, finding locations where external communications does not work (phone/internet) is becoming rarer with each passing day. There isn't even in flight entertainment. I'm enjoying basking in the serenity.

Since returning from Ireland and driving straight to Oxford I met up with two friends I've known since school: Mel who is working here, and Anthony (working here also - however London) from the train station in what was some pretty awesome rain (hello England). We proceeded to indulge in some of Russia's finest vodka and lemon wedge (read: probably not from Russia and hmm... needs more lemon), later followed by pepsi courtesy of a dial in pizza jobbie. Following a night of jovial conversation and discussion of world affairs, breakfast was had in the usual post-drinking session cook-up style, we then collected another school friend Jodie (this is turning into a reunion somewhat), and checked out the town. 

Merton College from Christ Church Meadow
Oxford is pretty awesome, the University is made up of 39 colleges, many of which are located in some epic old buildings, some dating back from the 1200's. Perhaps what you would come to expect from one of the oldest universities in the world. Many of the buildings here featured in the Harry Potter films. The great hall at Christ Church college was used in the feature film and is still used to this day by the students as their dining room. 

Christ Church Cathedral and College
A trip to Oxford wouldn't be complete without some geekery and there are a number of museums to satisfy, on this occasion we visited the Museum of the History of Science which had an interesting collection of scientific instruments (my favourite was the 'Radium kit for home experiments' which carried an apt warning for the user not to hold the radium sample too close to the eye or view it for very long). There is also a preserved blackboard from when Albert Einstein gave a lecture at Oxford in 1931.
Einstein Board (1931) - Museum of the History of Science
Nightlife in Oxford on Saturday night was OK; we started on an early pub crawl but didn't quite manage to sneak into a club (and the music didn't seem worth the fiver cover charge). Somehow home around 1am in a rather inebriated state.

Sunday was roast lunch day with some of Mel's colleagues, and a bit of afternoon running in the rain between the colleges to see what we could get into. Christ Church college happened to be open (whereas many had closed for the holidays). This college features the main cathedral for the shire (Christ Church Cathedral) as its chapel which was constructed around years 1160-1200, featuring a tomb, stained glass windows with some interesting stories to tell, and evidence in its construction of expansion over time and the use of several architectural styles (Norman and Gothic). After that we eventually found our way (its well hidden) to a pub called The Turf Tavern - notable as the site where former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set a world record for consuming a yard glass in 11 seconds, and where former US President Bill Clinton, whilst studying as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford allegedly "did not inhale".

Great weekend with great people, will miss hanging with these guys. Oxford I'll be back (missed out on visiting that pesky Great Hall at Christ Church, the Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera and a few others - next time!).

On the way home I dropped into Bletchley Park (near Milton Keynes, about an hour north east of Oxford), which is the site where the Codebreakers worked during World War II. Unfortunately much of the equipment was destroyed following the War for secrecy reasons, but they do have a number of the original huts (a few undergoing maintenance/rebuilding), the old farm mansion, and at the National Museum of Computing - a working Rebuild of the Colossus which was used by the British for the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher (used between high level German commands during the war). There are also some exhibits which focus on the Bombe, Alan Turing's electromechanical machine which was used in decoding Enigma-enchiphered messages. 

Working 'Rebuild' of the Colossus MKII at the National Museum of Computing (UK)

Paper tape used in the Colossus MK2.
The reader operates at 5000 characters/second.

Thats my nerdiness for the week. Next post from Finland :D

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