Not all Noteworthy

Continuing, this was the Tuesday:

  • 6:45am… Get up and look outside. Huh. Super clear and sunny. Unexpected, after yesterday. Cup of tea. Check email (delete 30 spams). Look at blog. Slow steady getting ready ritual while listening to NPR: Oatmeal again today, coffee for bike bag and journey in, sandwich for lunch…ironing a shirt…
  • 7:50am Have five-minute shower.
  • 8:05am Get out of shower. Aarrrrrgh! This is one the great mysteries we must solve concerning time, space, life, the universe. There’s nothing in Einstein’s GR about this: Why, when you go into a shower and spend five minutes – in your frame of reference – has 15 or 20 minutes passed by in the outside world?!
  • 8:17am Having gone from leisurely pace to frantic (since I have a 9:00am meeting) I leave home muttering something like “show me the meaning of haste” to the B as I point it toward the bus stop. (As usual, I make a mental note to not turn the haste into a misstep, so I go along my cycle route with purpose, but not abandon. I should make the bus that leaves about 8:27 or so.
  • 8:32am I did. On the bus I plan a future lecture for the string theory course about the role of various dualities in understanding strings. This is from both an historical and physical perspective. The history is interesting, but I’m also keen to present various physics perspectives to give a clear platform to help the younglings see further than what has been seen before. Yes. I said younglings. I know, it was deliberate, because it just sounds so silly.
  • 9:00am Technically this is on the the office hours for the E&M course, but nobody every shows up since (a) It is not the day when, or day before a problem set is due, (b) or just before a midterm. So I arranged with another undergraduate student to talk about Summer project supervision. He’s got a form to fill in for a fellowship to support him on such a project and needs a project description and a recommendation from me. I’d explained a bit about some of the possible places to do a project with me, in a meeting last Thursday, but a this meeting I offered to write some loose paragraphs of ideas so that he can pull from them in writing his project description in his own words. I promised to fill out the recommendation part of the form for him to pick up at 1:55pm.
  • 9:25am Email checking and answering for a while. Should start looking at material for the 10:00am lecture, shouldn’t I? Instead look over the work of the whole class on the last worksheet to see how they are doing. Reproduce new copies of the question sheet for them to keep for their records (and work through again for practice). I wonder how many will actually realize this is valuable practice and heed my words?
  • 9:55am Get lecture notes from file. (I’m pleased about this. Some weeks ago I gave up three days to rebuild the organization in my office, and clear several piles of paper. Looking for old lecture notes and the like used to be a frantic archaeological dig. I took my lecture notes from the E&M course and bound each logically separate chunk into a plastic protector sleeve and then into a single large binder. Got back into habit of putting notes back in place as soon as I have given the lecture. Huge time and several headaches saved. Obvious, but not always implemented.) Cast eye over lecture notes. Ready to go. This is beautiful material. Griffiths chapter 10. The potential formalism in electrodynamics. It is the beginning of the more mature part of the arcane arts I am teaching the young ones in my charge. On way to lecture, I remember an administrative task I’d better do today and so make a quick call to my office answering machine to tell my future self to do it. And then another, because I remembered something else.
  • 10:00am It is a satisfying lecture. We come to the brink of the heart of modern theoretical physics (the notion and facility of gauge transformations, etc), and I nudge them each a little in the smalls of each of their backs to look over the edge. (e.g: We end with Lorentz gauge, in which the operator [tex]\box^2\equiv\nabla^2-(1/c^2)\partial_t^2[/tex] shows up so naturally. I point out how interesting it is that it (the d’Alembertian) is sort of like a Laplacian, but on four dimensions, not three, because ct is now on the same footing as (x,y,z). Except for that all-important minus sign. This way lies Special Relativity… Then -joy of joys!- just as I’m finishing up, one student asks “what is [tex]{\box}^2[/tex] the square of?”. I tell him that he’s just repeated one of the most important questions in the history of twentieth century physics, and then told the class the story of the gentleman who asked -and answered- the question. (Dirac, in discovering the Dirac equation which describes (for example) electrons and hence properly understood spin for the first time and the concept of antimatter too since the plus/minus choice in taking the square root chooses electrons or positrons for you….)
  • 12:15pm Back at desk after the 1hr 50 minutes lecture. Came back via the transportation office (to get a new monthly bus pass). They kindly gave me $15 worth of Starbuck credit for filling out a survey telling them that I take the bus. For some reason they ere not allowed to tick both “bike” and “bus” on the form. Had to choose one. Sigh. Check and return some emails. Also look at blog while eating sandwich. Start thinking about what on earth I’m going to talk about in this afternoon’s 1 hr 50 minute lecture on strings.
  • 12:45pm Start putting pen to paper on the lecture. More about Neveu-Schwarz fivebranes. Marvellous things. So neglected these days… all the rage back in the day…. I intend to explain why, and how awfully cool and useful they are.. continuing a story I’ve been telling for a lecture and a half already. So many little gems that I’ve sprinkled in earlier lectures (WZW models, anomalies, sigma model technology, certain properties of SU(2)) are now going to come together in another startling way. It is going to be such fun.

    You’re probably wondering why I teach two courses, one undergraduate, one graduate. This is not standard. One course per semester is the norm here. I volunteered – it’s long story – and I’m nuts.

    [Update: There’s a strange Tolkien-esque (…Sauron released forth a black cloud from the East…) turn to the weather at lunchtime, as a huge cloud approaches, followed by freakish winds. A big tree (I learn via IM from a colleague in another building) on campus fell over. The afternoon continues with rapid changes between dark and sunny as though some sort of remarkable meteorological battle is taking place above our heads.]

  • 1:55pm Still scribbling lecture. Wasted a lot of time looking through CFT books to get the right conventions for normalization of screening charges for linear dilaton component. Confused and no time to srot it out. In the end decide to wing it, or set it as exercise. Knock on door. Oh. The student from earlier. I’d forgotten to fill the recommendation. Stare into space for a moment and then rattle off appropriate series of paragraphs. Sign. Seal into envelope. Shake his hand to welcome him to Team cvj (did not use those words) and get back to lecture.
  • 2:05pm Yeah. I know. Late. But they’re graduate students and they’ll be excitedly discussing the contents of the last lecture and the amazing role instantons can play in heterotic strings, won’t they? (No. Only in my fantasy world.)
  • 2:10pm We exchange a few jokes at the beginning of the lecture (including me announcing a “beat them up in the playground” fatwa on the two students who have not shown up for this exciting material) and I also announce the resolution of an argument that had come up between myself and Veselin in the last lecture about charge. (Turns out all the extra dimensions and the like are irrelevant – we’d all forgotten to invoke a simple and basic fact about delta functions from E&M – which Veselin later remembered and pointed out to me after the last class… This is ironic since in the other class a month ago I was giving them a hard time for not knowing essentially the same basic fact. I must be getting old.)
  • 3:50pm Leave the classroom to go to a meeting. I enjoyed the lecture, even if they did not. So difficult to tell, to be honest. Sigh.
  • 4:00pm Meet with an undergraduate from a committee whose name I’ve forgotten. He was a student of mine last year or the year before in basic physics for Engineers and Science Majors (Physics 151). Seems he”s on this committee that gets a few professors who fit the bill to give a talk entitled “What Matters to Me and Why” in a public campus forum, and there’s an audience, and questions and discussions and so forth. It is supposed to be for enhancing student life and inspiration, among other things. He’d nominated me, since he enjoyed my class. I’m honoured and flattered (I tell him this) and thank him and the committee for considering me for this. I agree to do it, and we spend some time looking at the calendar and pick October 3rd. This is difficult for me since I really don’t like fixing dates for things so far in advance. One reason is because I’m always worried I’ll simply forget – no matter how important it is. So I ask him to send me a reminder email one week before the event.
  • 4:20pm Planning to get some reading done on a certain research topic. Spend some time on the SPIRES database finding some references. Print them out.
  • 4:35pm Check my phone messages, since I seem to have two! I’d not noticed them before, even though the machine is at arm’s length from me. They seem to be from me (momentarily weird voice until recognition sinks in) reminding me to send some emails concerning an upcoming campus event I’m organizing with KC Cole (Please come – “Point of View, II” see the earlier one here and here – details coming soon) and reminding me to meet with the student at 4:00pm.
  • 4:50pm While on way to printer, run into an undergraduate student who I promised to chat to at length about his graduate school offers. I offer to walk and talk, since I want to go up to the University Village to buy some inserts for my shoes for better instep support. Turns out he was hungry and was thinking of going up there to get some food anyway, so this is perfect. We walk and talk while going between a number of stores to try to find the inserts I want (and we fail since supposedly nobody makes the sort I want any more because everybody wants the type with thick cushioning everywhere and I don’t because I don’t want to feel like I’m wearing 70s platform shoes, but I don’t believe the kid in Footlocker since he’s only been alive for about ten minutes, so what does he know, but eventually admit that the evidence in two other stores supports his assertions that I’m a dinosaur. I go to the Village Cobbler (or some such name) which smells wonderfully of old leather and polish and order some pleasant-looking old-fashioned inserts of the sort that I think will do the job). We get some food for the hungry student.

    Somewhere in there I have a “dare to dream”-type conversation on my mobile with one of my colleagues about an idea I have for future plans in hiring, fundraising, etc. I hope they understood my points.

    The student and I have a good graduate school conversation all around but I suspect that he is frustrated by my advice since I balance every minus about a place with a plus, and vice-versa. I think he’ll do well wherever he goes (give his offers) and tell him so. Perhaps not helpful.

  • 5:50pm Back in department on way back to office, run into group of four or five of our graduate students and get engaged in discussing aspects of dark matter. Find myself embarrassed a couple of times at not being able to bring out some plain astrophysics numbers to illustrate certain points I was making, resorting instead to things like “much smaller than”, and “really negligibly small”, which while true, are less convincing sounding to a student and sound awfully like bullshit. Conversation goes on for a while but I don’t mind since this is spontaneous quality time we should give to our students, and anyway they are showing that they give damn about the physics that came up in one of the colloquia I organized for them, and anyway they are all very likable folk to talk to and it is an interesting conversation.
  • 6:30pm. Huh. Still here. The conversation has moved to a range of other topics, and now we are discussion progress. I try several times with only moderate success to explain my thesis that we are, as a society, way too focused on how modern we think we are, and how advanced (in all spheres) when in fact I think we are much more like we always were than is often recognized. This is a fairly straightforward case to make to anyone who is politically aware if you’re talking about politics, war, etc., but I contend that it is also true for many more things, including science and technology and its interaction with society, the areas where we are always patting ourselves on the back about how advanced we are. Ipods, and mobile phones and the like -wonderful as they are- are largely shiny distractions… sure, if you look closely enough at any area you can obviously say “we’ve never done this before”, but I claim that there are very many ways to slice the same facts that show that the situation is the same as it ever was, or that new piece of technology is in fact bringing us back to how we were. I also tried to point out that I don’t think that this is a bad thing. It is not a good thing either. It is just… a thing. But I like that it gives me a comforting connection to the past, and to the future. In all likelihood 2000 years from now there will be someone just like me teaching young people, and also finding time to ask questions about our place in the universe. Just like there was 2000 years before. I’m connected to those people. That makes me feel good.

    I don’t think I convinced them at all though, but that’s ok. They are young. They should be still distracted by the shiny stuff for a while. It takes a while to figure out what really matters. I’m just beginning to do so properly myself.

  • 7:05pm Back at my office and decide to go home. Somehow it takes me another 40 minutes to get to the point where I am packed and ready to leave. I cannot recall what I did in that time.
  • 8:45pm Back home after a freezing cold cycle from the bus stop, and a short chat with the bus driver who was amazed at this mysterious package I was carrying turning into a complete bicycle. I explained to her how nicely it fits under the bus seats. She was still making sing-song noises of approval in her throat as I cycled away. Good. Another one made aware of the possibilities available to us.
  • 9:05pm Realized to my annoyance that in my haste to leave this morning I forgot to put out that soup I’d made a while back to defrost. Decide to steam a frozen tamale from the fantastic stall in the Hollywood Farmer’s market, and have it with some steamed (unidentified) greens that I always get from the chinese lady near (the gardener) Jimmy’s stall, and a whole tasty tomato from another market stall. I also grate a tasty Fuji apple (also from the market) to have in some plain live yoghurt, as desert.
  • quick dinner

  • 10:45pm Awake from a nice doze over the empty plates of dinner. Definite sign I should get to sleep. Spend a bit of time scribbling some of the entries for this post. Give up eventually, as just way too tired. Answer a few messages on blog and go to sleep.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), I am determined to get some physics done. Will solve this by basically hiding at home and reading the things I printed out, for a start. Have been keeping Wednesday free of appointments in order to do this.


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7 Responses to Not all Noteworthy

  1. Mary Cole says:

    Your comment about the passage of time (8.05) really struck a chord with me. It is really reassuring to hear a physicist express this view! Perception of time is a fascinating thing. I do hope you are managing to get some ‘quality physics time’ (for want of a better phrase) today.

  2. I quite enjoyed that post, and boy oh boy is that 1:55-2:10 routine a familiar one. It sounds, however, like you handled it with admirable finesse…

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  4. Arun says:

    Affected by the lunchtime storm you mentioned:

    (Hummingbird fledglings)

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  7. Arun says:

    Glad you liked the hummingbird pictures!