After a decent (and resonably-timed) night’s sleep, I had my first full day at the Lab, uninterrupted by 3-hour detours to the bank, visits to the cellphone store, etc. Until today, I’d been around, but not really present: physically there, and certainly interested in everything, but no able to spend enough time in a day to really start engaging with the place and people.
And it was a good day to actually be all there, because there was an all-lab demo of various things people were working on. Suffice it to say, some of my colleagues are doing things I’ll never really understand; on the other, a heartening number are working on things that I think are really fascinating (whether I completely get them or not). And I’m starting to meet more people, none of whom seem to be from the same country, but most of whom are named either Richard or Alex, or something very exotic. Quite a place.
Other parts of my life are getting set up, or falling into place. As a reward for my doggedness in the face of bureaucratic obstacles, my ATM card arrived today, with the critical chip and pin technology (American credit and debit cards still use magnetic stripes, and apparently a different standard of chip and pin, so a growing number of Americans are finding themselves unable to use the credit cards here, a situation that of course we find unendurable). So now I can actually get paid, and do my part to prop up England’s economy. I’m also going to have a national health number and membership in the national savings scheme, a development I find kind of surreal.
I also got set up at the gym. There’s a health club in my neighborhood that has a deal with Microsoft Research, so for the cost of a really good dinner (and maybe a drink) I’m getting a three-month membership there. The upside is that the machines are by and large familiar (Precor and Cybex seem to rule the world, and if you’ve seen one Pilates ball you’ve seen them all); the downside is that it’s part of the local community college, and has all the charm of one of a set of A Clockwork Orange– that stripped-down uninspired Modernism that Orwell would have rebelled against. “You want to know the future, Winston? Picture a mop, disinfecting the tile of a public shower. Forever.” However, it’s also something of a magnet for American expatriates, though there’s a suspicious enthusiasm for the rowing machines. Inevitable local influence, I guess.
I also had my first dealing with the local Apple store: yesterday afternoon, after successfully finishing the paperwork to get my bank account (hooray!), my Macbook failed to turn on (boo!). I immediately scheduled a genius bar appointment, and went down before dinner. Turned out the Nvidia graphics card had died, and of course I’ve had this machine far too long for it to be in warranty. However, it also turned out that this is a known problem (in fact, Nvidia just announced a class action settlement about it), and they had the replacement chip in stock… so what I imagined would be an expensive, time-consuming problem turned out to be one that they dealt with in a couple hours, for free. Just a wonderful experience. Maybe it’s not so bad here, after all.
I couldn’t resist celebrating having just dodged a £720 bullet, so I went back to the Eagle for dinner. I sat under a picture of John Milton that, for all I know, could have been drawn from life: Milton arrived at Cambridge when the Eagle was about 100 years old, after all.
What a place.