Up for Air

early spring fig tree growthMorning cup of tea, and short reflection – coming up for air before diving back in…

It’s a bit of a mess here, time-wise. Just not enough hours in the day. Everything totally fragmented. Yesterday was grueling… here’s some of it:

Up at 5:30am, finding that I’m immediately thinking about a physics project for a bit (I fell asleep doing so, having been the whole evening in the Casbah drinking coffee and doing the same) before having to break off to get ready, get to office early to start an insanely busy day. Answer a ton of email, and deal with other online stuff, planning to ignore it for the whole rest of morning. Note that flimmaker/journalist friend B has sent me an email with a list of comments and suggested changes to my script for the Video. Got to discuss it with A, my collaborator in Chemistry on this. Whenever are we going to meet in the next few days? Sigh. (Must remember to do blog post about this new project, and how I ended up involved with the Chemistry department!)

After some dithering, decided to drive in, since the plan was to stay super-late and probably involve driving someone home.

Cold as I walk to the office from where I parked on the street. Mostly in my mind, and not outside. Not enough sleep? Eventually take off the heavy coat (I brought it for walking to dinner and to car later on, when it will be night and chilly) and carry it. Chastise myself for only getting to office shortly after 8, even after the early start of the day…

Planned all-day writing of paper still does not start. Need to print out a whole bunch of dossiers of various applicants for a fellowship I must review by… Last Friday. Sigh. Send apology email and promise that my reviews will come by end of day.

Bit of looking into old literature… Stop by to say hello to T (one of my students in office nearby – we are writing a paper together) and to ask him about his thoughts on a computation for the paper. I’m confused about something… Back to desk. Printing draft of huge report another student, R, has written, that I promised we’d discuss at 10:00am. Walk over to printer at 9:58am and find R lurking in corridor outside my door. Smile at him, but pretend he’s not there for those precious two minutes, since every one counts it seems to me at this part of the morning…

10:00am: Ask R if we can go outside and walk while we talk. I’m cold, cold, cold. He agrees, and laughs as at the end of the walk down the stairs I run into the sunlight and let out a loud sigh, and then act more energized. We go back upstairs immediately since I’d printed the wrong version of what we were to discuss. Sigh. On leaving office a second time the phone rings and I decide to take it. I don’t know why. Some guy who never says his name asking about the moon. How will things be affected if the moon’s day was 12 hours instead of 28 point whatever days? How will it affect tides? Surfing? I explain a bit about the difference between orbital matters and rotational matters and why surfing would be fine (assuming the moon is sufficiently spherical). He does not understand. I apologize, and say goodbye and good luck.

R and I do a tour around the campus as we walk and talk. It’s been a long project – well over a year – and maybe there’s been a nice bit of pulling things together and perhaps even a new bit of progress in understanding… but still a lot to do. 10:50 sees us heading back to my office, since I promised another student, V, I’d meet him to talk about another project.

11:00am: Ask V if we can go outside and walk while we talk since I’m still cold. He agrees, and we do a tour around campus as we talk. This is also a fun project, and we decide various things about a paper we might write, and another, on various results. We sit in the sun in a square and have an excellent time discussing and arguing about what an idea of mine might mean… we decide it was cute but wrong (or not useful) but it triggers other thoughts… Walk back. We joke a little, talk outside my door about his plans for the Summer, then call it quits.

…and by 12:45 I’m back in the office trying to remember what it was I was supposed to be doing next. IM to T on the issue we were discussing and we decide to talk it over and… go for a walk.

We tour around campus for a while talking about physics (ok, if asked directly, I will not deny that thoughts on the upcoming The Incredible Hulk vs Ang Lee’s (unfairly) very poorly regarded The Hulk, snuck into the conversation too) and cleaning up one last (we think) issue for the paper. I decide to steer us in a different direction at one point, making a detour to cross over to see, as we talked, how the Exposition Rose Garden was doing. It is FANTASTIC!! The roses are at their peak. Lots of rose sniffing on my part while we talk physics (T is so tolerant of his advisor). We wonder what huge new wing it is that they are building onto the California Science Center (and hope that it is to do with science, and not just a larger on-site (why?!) McDonald’s to clog the arteries of more kids who come for science (such as Body Worlds 3 and The Story of the Heart, ironically) – mental note to google about the building project later…)

1:30pm Back in office. Decide to open email and sneak a peek at the script changes B suggested. Ok. Some things to work with there. Oh no, he’s rewritten a bit to include me on camera. That has to go. I want to stay this side of the camera on this one…

1:45pm Decide to eat my sandwich and stare at the computer for a bit… dig out old files of past paper to use as template and then – FINALLY – start writing the paper. This involves taking a lot of time to think of a title and abstract (IM back and forth with T about the former… settle pretty quickly on one…) I write best when I have the front page of the paper sitting there on the desk next to me. Free to modify title and abstract later, but always good to have something looking like a title page in place. Weird, I know. There’s a set of notes that T has already written, along with figures, that I pull into the document and then start adding my bits and chipping and trimming and shaping. It’s easy work since T seems to have absorbed some of my typesetting foibles from earlier papers we’ve written together. A first rough draft, with all the essentials in, takes shape pretty rapidly.

3:00pm At a campus cafe for a meeting with a colleague M about matters to do with my big university committee, and related matters. Long useful discussion, and plans for something we will write together – the report on our findings.

3:45pm Meet with a different colleague M over at a different part of campus to say Hi and pick up some DVDs I’m borrowing. The Brazilian TV series of “City of Men”, based on the wonderful movie “City of God” from six years back (recently followed up by the film “City of Men” that I have yet to see). I’m excited to have it, although I’ve no idea when I will find time to watch it in the next couple of weeks.

4:15pm Departmental Colloquium. I arrive fashionably late, embarrassingly. Listen for a while and get the gist of it, but eventually decouple and (hand) write a bit more of the paper, and review the fellowships. Yeah, I’m a bad person.

5:30pm Second draft of paper takes shape in no time now that the phone has stopped ringing, and I’m in the Zone. It looks almost done… just lots of tinkering to do, which will take hours. Figures, cleaning up, moving sentences around and so forth. Lot of IM back and forth with T, who is two doors away.

7:00pm Return call on mobile from B. He has wants to talk about the script I sent him, and his concerns about the central idea I’m pushing for the Video. I tell him it is not a good time, but somehow we talk for a while about this, and I try to reassure him that it’ll all be ok. It’s experimental. If we don’t be bold and try something new, we’ll just produce the same old tired stuff. I want to do something different, and this is all a learning experience for us the scientists, and him the filmmaker. It’ll be ok. Really. Not sure he’s convinced, but we sign off with a promise that I will rework some parts of the script, talk things over with A, and get back to him for the next step. Maybe a meeting face to face will help too.

Back to paper.

8:45pm Tired, and a bit confused about one of our points, we decide to walk to get some dinner. Coat comes in useful. I suggest trying the new neighbourhood winebar! Bacaro. It is within easy walking distance (by my standards anyway) of campus and I’ve been spreading the word for faculty and students to support it – we need more good stuff in the neighbourhood as the ratio of quality food to fast junk is rather poor (although there are gems to be found if you make the effort). Their website is here. (Go!)

The place is great, although there’s hardly anyone there (Monday night, still not well known) – just one other table occupied. So we have Danny Kronfli, a co-owner, all to ourselves. He shares with us quite a bit about the setting up of the place, and encourages us to try various things. We ask for his recommendations and end up with four or five dishes (cicheti) of things to make up a meal. Confident that the paper is almost done (we totally sorted out our little confusion on the walk over) I cave in and have a glass of an excellent red wine. Between talking about physics and the paper and other projects we’d like to explore, (ok, upon being pressed about whether the upcoming movie Iron Man was briefly discussed, I’d be unable to deny it), we chat with Danny about the restaurant. I even explain to him (at his request) what superconductivity is and why we were working on it. (That’s the subject of the paper, by the way – it is out now.)

10:30 Back in office, rejuvenated for the final push of editing and tinkering, spell-checking, proofreading, then submitting to the arXiv. Somehow this takes another hour or two. Don’t know why. Perhaps the red wine? No.

1:15am We leave the Physics building to walk to car, having helped convince T that he should not cycle home and that I’ll drop him home.

1:40am Have a bit of kinetic fun on the wide open roads on the way home. Oh yeah. The car purrs contentedly. So do I.

2:00am – 3:00am. Get home. Dither for a while, sending apology emails to a few people for being silent all day. Write my report on the candidates I reviewed and submit it (not quite 5:00pm like I promised, but…), and after realizing that I still have not written my two hour lecture for my General Relativity class the next day, crash into bed listening to Radio 4.

Ugh. Don’t want another day of that length in a hurry. Too long (almost 22 hours) and too fragmented. Woke up with that buzzing in my ears I get these days when I’ve stayed up way too late and got up way too early. Not as easy to to this as it used to be, methinks…Getting old.

On the other hand, it’s the most physics conversation I’ve packed into one day for quite a while, so it was all worth it. Find myself relishing the thought of the end of the semester…

Anyway, by the usual nobody-has-the-time rules, there’s very likely only me reading now, as everyone else decoupled at about the 10:00am time stamp, so better stop. Time for another crazy day. Lecture to write, lecture to give, big important university committee meeting to chair… sigh.

Better dive back in.


(Written in morning of 22nd. Cleaned up, edited and posted evening of 22nd.)

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8 Responses to Up for Air

  1. astromcnaught says:

    I feel dizzy…

  2. Jude says:

    This reminds me of The Dispossed by Ursula Leguin. Ever read it? I haven’t read it in decades (although I met UL at a Colorado SF conference and talked to her about mountain travel, which was meaningless to her since she’d flown into Denver). Maybe if I’d read it recently, I’d know why this reminds me of the book. Man, that makes this a meaningless comment.

  3. Mary Cole says:

    Wow! And I thought my day was busy.

  4. Clifford says:

    Hi… Well, here’s a review. I don’t know if it’ll jog your memory.



  5. Bilal says:

    Ah the fun of being a professor! 🙂

  6. I’m amazed and humbled at how quickly you are able to pull a paper together! With a collaborator, yet!

  7. Clifford says:

    Well, the hard work – the computations and the figuring out of the physics – go on for much longer than 12 hours. Days, weeks, months, years, can go into the groundwork of a piece of research. Writing it up and pulling it together is a different matter entirely. It can be a matter of a few focussed hours of work, if everything is in place and ready to go, (especially if you have the help of an excellent collaborator, as I had in this case), or a bit more if you have a million and one other things to do in a given day .



  8. Adam says:

    You probably don’t know how glad I am that you mentioned Bacaro – this area just doesn’t have enough places like that, and I intend to check it out the next free evening I have!

    I was also wondering when you blog. When is it that you typically have time to write and post (which are probably separate events, at least for me) – during the day, at home, at a coffee shop? I always like knowing when other bloggers do their..blogging.