It’s been super-busy here in my universe, coupled with turmoil of various sorts. This has kept me away from doing some of the sorts of posts I’ve wanted to do. I hope to tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to when I get a chance. I managed to squeeze in some time for a movie last night, and I’ll do a post on that shortly, since I thought it was wonderful. In the meantime, I thought that while I do a quick breakfast before diving into the day, I’d mention the following.
Alternative Title: A Physics Blind Date
A couple of weeks ago, I got an email out of the blue from a lawyer from out of town. He explained a bit about the type of law work he does, and then went on to say that this was nothing to do with what he was emailing me about. He was emailing me about physics. Turns out that in their spare time, he and his law partner spend time discussing and arguing about physics concepts such as General and Special Relativity, and Cosmology. They’d got to a point where they were confused about various details. The popular level books that they were reading did not really do it for them in terms of getting them past certain concepts and they thought that they’d just contact a physicist and ask.
Hence the email. He wondered if I’d be able to take some time to answer questions. He was terribly apologetic for bothering me, and knew that I might decline since I’m probably very busy.
Well, my response you can guess. Of course I’d find the time! Learning of members of the general public being interested in discussing physics just out of general interest is music to my ears! I consider explaining physics to members of the general public as part of my job – my duty as a scientist. He suggested that since they were coming into the city for a meeting soon, would I be interested in meeting them for lunch, and we can chat for a while, and lunch would be on them. I could pick the restaurant.
Gosh. Well, it sounded all quite reasonable, and happily they were in town on a day which was a bit more flexible than others. The free lunch thing was not a big deal to me. The real attraction is the opportunity to explain some fun physics concepts to an interested and willing audience. What a fantastic arrangement!
So I picked a nice lunch place downtown (Warung Café, on 4th between Spring and Main, which is excellent and reasonably priced by the way) and we arranged to meet. It is perfect for me to get to quickly since there’s a subway stop 3 minutes away, and also has the advantage of having Lost Souls Café in the alleyway nearby for me to retire to after if I wanted to get back to thinking about research projects for a while.
So I arrived at the restaurant, a bit in a rush, having left my desk at a pace after being delayed by various things. I realized on the way that I’d forgotten the name of both guys I was supposed to meet (I don’t carry Blackberrys or iPhones or other distractions like that with me to allow me to check email) and nor had I written down a phone number. So it was one of those good-old-fashioned meetings which seem so rare these days now that everyone has mobiles to constantly modify the parameters: You pick a time and a place and, gosh, you just have to show up there at that time. Quaint.
Due to my not writing down names, there was, however, that blind-date-type moment of wondering whether you’re going to recognize each other, and that hesitant approach with a “Hi, er, are you, er…” But it worked fine. (I’d mentioned that they should look online at my picture to identify me, which is just as well, since pink carnations are out of season, I think.)
We chatted for two hours actually. Almost non-stop. It was fantastic. They emailed me afterward to thank me and say that I helped clear things up, and so that was very worthwhile, I’d say.
You know, this gives me an idea. I (like many of you I presume) regularly go on actual dates (the potentially romantic kind) which are arranged in not so different ways: referral from a friend, random email, meeting online, random awkward suggestion to someone you half know, and so on and so forth. There’s this lottery-like feature about whether the actual conversation aspect will work out, and this (at least for me) will destroy the entire enterprise if it is not right. (Uh, don’t get me started on the topic of regular disaster dates where the conversation is just dull as dishwater. I could write a book on this year’s bumper crop alone.) This chat with these two guys about physics -two total strangers off the street, as it were- was fun, relaxed, good humoured, and a real pleasure. Partly this is because the situation is not laden with expectations about the future. We chat, say goodbye, and that’s it. So it is different from dates of course, but I wonder whether something could be borrowed from the one to use in the other. Such chats are a success also because there’s a shared strong interest in the topic of conversation, and the topic is sort of on the agenda at the outset. Not a guarantee of a “good time had by all”, but certainly a major contributing factor. (And no, in case you’re wondering, it was not just me sitting there pontificating while others listened – it was a real conversation, with exchanges of information and ideas.)
So perhaps this is a basis for a new (?) idea for a dating plan for those who seek interesting and engaging conversations along with all the other stuff: People meeting on a one-off basis to chat about particular topics that interest them. It can be one person wanting to know more about a topic from the other, or two people bringing equal amounts of expertise or curiosity to the table, etc. That becomes the main purpose of the dinner or lunch, and at the very least you get a good conversation, and walk away. Anything else is a bonus. There’s no pressure to make things work, since it is primarily about conversations one-to-one over a meal. In fact, you can just do it for the conversation alone, and leave it at that. Since conversations between interesting people will eventually drift off to other topics as common interests allow, sparking the whole getting-to-know-you aspect, it’s as good a basis as any (perhaps better) for meeting people you ultimately might want to get to know better. For those of us who highly value interesting in-depth conversations in our personal relationships, this is maybe more preferable a starting point than several dating situations. And certainly a good way of filtering out the dead-in-the-water type dinners.
The bottom line is that there’s no expectations of anything other than an interesting conversation, and so at least you both walk away knowing more about quantum mechanics, or bubble sort algorithms, tort law, propagating succulents, fluxed-core arc welding, the Thai film industry, or whatever agreed topic floats your boat. Hmm…
Anyway, guess what. Tonight I’m off to dinner with a couple of film-makers to chat with them and explain certain equations they want to incorporate into a documentary. Dinner’s on them. Should be fun…