Areas of Unrest
6 December 2000 - Dr. Nadel Goes to Washington
QOTD: "That's a good question. Let me try to evade you." - Paul Tsongas
Reading: Ann Rule, ...And Never Let Her Go
Listening to: Nomad, Songman
I'm back from a quick trip to D.C. to go to a conference at the U.S. Naval Observatory. I now know far more than I ever expected to about things like leap seconds, the International Celestial Reference Frame, and plans to create new star catalogs. I should note that most of this is actually useful to me at work and I came home with a long list of things to look into that I hadn't realized our program needed to be concerned with. It was also good to be in a room with roughly half the people in the country who would laugh at a reference to binary stars as "vermin of the sky." (Binary stars are a pain in the neck, because it's very hard to be sure which of the pair you're looking at.)
An added bonus was getting to see the Naval Observatory. The grounds are very attractive, with lots of trees. Going up to the evening reception, we cut across the Vice President's helicopter pad. (His official residence is on the grounds, but over the hill from where we were.) There was a choice between seeing the atomic clock (which controls the time ball that the Secretary of the Navy drops at midnight of the New Year) and seeing the historic 26 inch reflector. I opted for the telescope, which dates back to 1890 and was used to discover the moons of Mars. It was interesting to see it and its use was briefly demonstrated. The entire wooden floor of the facility can be raised and lowered, too. They still manage to get useful observations, although they're somewhat limited by city light, and even more limited by D.C. weather.
The conference ended early enough that I had a couple of free hours. I contemplated a visit the Textile Museum or the National Cathedral, but decided that time was too limited, so opted for a good long walk instead. Walking down Massachusetts Avenue (a.k.a. Embassy Row) is an old favorite of mine, because I like to see how many of the flags I recognize. Sadly, I haven't gotten much better at this game. I know the South African and Korean flags now, but I still find myself thinking, "hmmm, probably an Islamic country" and discovering the embassy I'm looking at is really Brazil. At Q Street, I cut across to Dupont Circle for a nice browse at Kramerbooks.
The only real downside of the trip was flying in and out of Dulles. Since I was staying at a hotel that was a five minute walk from the Naval Observatory (and within two blocks of at least a dozen restaurants), I didn't bother getting a car. I used a shuttle service to the hotel and the Washington Flyer bus back, but it was tedious. And I was unable to get an upgrade in either direction. Still, these things are just minor inconveniences.
Copyright 2000 Miriam H. Nadel
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