Build Your Life on Eternal Truths

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I just popped out for a burger at Arbee’s, and I chose a seat with a good view of the full moon riding high over a Shell gas station. On the wall of the station was a large luminescent white sign bearing the words “Build Your Life on Eternal Truths”. Chapel Hill has a huge number of churches, most being very small and privately run by their pastors, so I guess what the Shell proprietor really means is “Make sure to follow a culturally sanctioned subset of the many commandments in the Bible”. Or perhaps “Spend a lot of your time participating in church rituals and talking about Christian dogma”. I don’t think so. Anyway, I bought a bottle of chocolate milk and a greasy pastry without being proselytised, and got to hear some serious southern twang, movie hillbilly style.

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The Morehead Planetarium was good, starting with the huge sundial I walked past at about ten. Almost all US astronauts until 1975 received training in naked-eye astronomical navigation at Morehead, sticking their heads in plywood boxes while looking at the planetarium projections to simulate the restricted field of vision from inside their spacecraft. In at least two cases this training proved crucial to mission success when electrical systems failed.

The adjacent university museum has a good little exhibition on Hardaway, a stratified Archaic lithics site going back to 10,000 BC. I enjoyed watching a movie clip about rock knapping, the knapper looking like a wizened old hippie.

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A geocacher had advised me that one’s life could not have any worth until one had eaten at Breadmen’s, so I took lunch there. They have all-day breakfast, and I ordered “biscuits with gravy”: four faintly sweet scone-like cakes doused in a creamy greyish sauce containing sausage meat. With this, I had two fried eggs, a bowl of grits (unseasoned corn-based semolina porridge, much like Chinese rice porridge) and a glass of lemonade. I didn’t quite manage to eat all of it, and it took five hours of almost constant walking before I was hungry again.

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Chapel Hill’s old cemetery is a fascinating place that will make an archaeologist very happy one day. The site was mainly used during the 19th and early 20th century, and it is divided into sections with rich academics to the east and black people to the west, including slaves. In the poorest western section, most graves are marked with headstones in the most literal sense: irregular rows of smallish unmodified natural stones, broken by only a few inscribed slabs! Very prehistoric-looking, I’ve never seen anything like it from so late a period. In the middle of the poor section is an incongruous obelisk monument raised over four men who had performed some important service (in WW1?): it was put up by a year of university students, i.e. affluent white people. Very fitting to visit the site on MLK Day.

A funny thing about English and American cemeteries is the ever-present natural decay. Monuments are left to fall to bits at these places, to become overgrown by trees. In a Swedish cemetery, a grave is either maintained (by the family or the congregation) or the stone is removed and the plot re-used. This means that in Swedish cemeteries, everything is very neat and the older stones are found in ranks leaning against the cemetery wall.

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MLK Day in Chapel Hill

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Above is a candid pic by Nathan L. Walls, showing yours truly at Saturday’s hum & soc sci session. The teeshirt is from the Swedish Skeptics and reads “I am skeptical” in an obscure North-European language.

Yesterday’s highlights were

  • An informal brunch with congressman Brad Miller, who came across as low-key, thoughtful and friendly, with a serious interest in science policy and gender equality issues. Few US politicians ever come across as half as trustworthy in the media. I wonder if I’ve ever actually talked to a Swedish congressman?
  • A sunlit 7 km walk into Chapel Hill along a six-lane highway.
  • Dinner, geocaching and general sightseeing in near-deserted Chapel Hill.
  • A moonlit 7 km walk back to the Holiday Inn.

I’m calling a taxi before I leave the motel to head for the Morehead Planetarium. Chapel Hill hasn’t got many museums, and furthermore most are closed today because of it being Monday and/or MLK Day. The latter seems like a strange reason to me, because people are more likely to visit a museum when they don’t work, right?

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Sunny Winter Morning in RTP

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A good thing about jet lag is that it gets you up in the morning. I awoke at five, played around with the computer, showered, breakfasted and was outside at half past seven.

It’s a brisk, cold sunny morning with snowy lawns and smoking breath. I took a short walk over to the nearest geocache (by Research Triangle Park’s little memorial plaza) and took a few pix on my way back.

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Evening in the Research Triangle

I’m back in the US for the first time since 2002. Before that, the last time was in 1978, when I had lived in Greenwich, Connecticut and gone to Kindergarten for two years. Everybody’s way fatter than I remember them. But very cheerful and friendly.

My first time in North Carolina: I’m at the Radisson Hotel (in Swedish I always call these things Hotell Rädisan, “Radish Hotel”) in Research Triangle Park after having travelled for about 20 hours. Lost my itinerary printout, ran around Newark airport like a headless chicken, was then put on a standby list despite checking in an hour an a half before my el-cheapo flight would take off, but did get on the flight, and here I am now. The receptionist has christened me “M. Rumdkisd”.

Bedtime: tomorrow’s the big Science Blogging Conference day! I look forward to having breakfast with Sciblings, people I’ve known for a year and will now encounter IRL for the first time.