In the desert


Yesterday I gave a talk at PNNL. It went fine, got a few laughs, had some interesting discussions about infrastructure for bioinformatics, and some new uses for ontologies.

PNNL is in Washington State, in Pasco. There are hills between here and the coast, so none of Seattle’s rain gets here — basically, it’s a desert. The cities have the classic urban sprawl; there is no city centre or down town area, just lots of roads with malls hanging off them. The roads are all about 16 lanes wide, with no cars on them. Space is cheap here; it took me 5 minutes to walk from the guest house, across the largely empty parking lot to the badging office. Unlike Livermore where I have been before, the security is relatively low key; no marine with a basooka strapped to his shoulder wishing you a nice day on the entrance here. They did give me a 30 page "visitor orientation" book. Page 1 says "look after the environment", page 2 says "don’t drive too fast", page 3 says "no alcohol, cameras are restricted and wear your badge". From page 4 onwards, it’s all about radiological safety including a section cryptically entitled "What about pregnant women".

I’m staying in the PNNL guesthouse, as they are not allowed to put you up anywhere else. They provide a complementary breakfast of microwavable muesli bars, and a 150ml can of apple juice (made from concentrate), which are replaced every monday. The sign telling me all this also says "enjoy your breakfast" which seems a tad optimistic.

The local delicacy here are "spudnuts" — I now said or written this word about 15 times and still find it funny. Basically these are doughnuts made of, well, potatoes. Despite being a desert, Washington state is also starting to make inroads into wines — you can see the vineyards from overhead as you come in.

Today, after a breakfast of spudnuts and coffee my host, the ever gracious Cliff Joslyn is taking me up at Roslyn — better known as Cicely, Alaska, home of Northern Exposure. I expect it’s going to be pointless — there many be three buildings I recognise, or there may not. Hopefully, I’ll get some reasonably views of the hills as well, rather than miles and miles of flat, brown and probably radioactive dirt.


Actually, it was pretty cool.

Originally published on my old blog site.