Saturday Calm

october rosesWell, another super-busy week has gone by. Work has been crazy, life has been crazy, and so forth. It is so good to be able to sit here for a while on a sunny Saturday morning and reflect. I thought I’d take you with me on some of the reflections.

The Nobel prizes seemed to come up so much faster this year, and go by even more quickly. I’ve not had as much time to contemplate them as I’d have liked. It was certainly really good to see that the physics one was a celebration of some of the key ideas in my field (see here), of course, but I’d have liked to have had more chatter about all of them, as I usually try to do. It is good to learn more about other things – get out of one’s comfort zone. Two years ago while I was departmental colloquium organizer, I set aside one date to be a colloquium where the three science prizes were highlighted – “Who, What, Why?” There’s always going to be local faculty who can stand up and explain things from the perspective of their own expertise, and so each of them can get up and say something for 15 minutes to an assembled audience. It’s a good idea to sit together and talk about ideas, isn’t it? It was a success (see here), but as soon as I stopped being colloquium organizer the idea dissolved into the vacuum of course. (Thinking of it now, I think I might try to resurrect the event in a different form, with all the prizes – including Peace and Literature being featured. I think I know a good forum for this…)

We gave a midterm this week, in the Physics 151 class (core physics for science and engineering majors). I don’t think that all concerned were fully happy with it, including us (by “us” and “we” I mean myself and my colleague Chris Gould who teaches the other section of the same class). While it was an exam that was conceptually no harder than any other we’ve set for this course in the past, it was a little more algebraically involved in some places, and this probably threw some students a bit. Of course, we don’t feel too bad, since there were a number of freebee-type questions (i.e., we did them in class in the lead up to the exam) on the exam to help boost confidence, as is always a good thing to have. Algebraically involved? I just mean that the final answers of some of the questions were not short, simple expressions with, say, a couple of terms, but a bit longer. This shouldn’t be a problem really, but people seem less willing to manipulate longer algebraic expressions these days, and it is also easy to forget that the less confident might be a bit worried that they’ve made a wrong turn if they see that algebra not simplifying. I’d have preferred to have displayed some of those expressions and have them show that they are true, so that they had something to work toward, but we did not appreciate in time that we should have done this. Overall, it was not a bad distribution of grades and points in the end, however, so no harm done in the big scheme of things.

We had an excellent seminar and two-day visit from David Berenstein (UCSB). He told us things about holography and 2+1 dimensional conformal field theories during the Wednesday seminar. He was just as he usually is – enthusiastic, and an excellent speaker – so although it was a crazy week of things going on, it was a pleasure to see and host him. I was pleased that he used public transport to get to campus from Santa Barbara, and that he enjoyed doing so. It was entirely his idea to take the train down, I should say, and I was happy to help him connect interior of bacaro/>the details all the way to campus. I’m trying to encourage people to do that sort of thing much more, as you know from reading here, and it is good when it happens from time to time. David, Tameem (a graduate student of mine) and I had an excellent dinner at Bacaro, the new place near campus I’ve mentioned before. David did a post about his visit on his new blog here.

Thursday was a rather lovely day for me. I got to slow down a bit after the mess of the earlier part of the week, and after working on a report for the DOE grant our group is writing, I spent several hours into the evening wandering downtown, hanging around various art galleries while talking with a dear musician friend, finishing up with a drink at the Edison, a place I always love to visit. We were lucky to catch their 35c coctails, a Thursday special (in honour of the 1930s – see their wonderful site here – be sure to take the visual tour!). I always love wandering downtown in company that appreciates it (and is tolerant is my stopping and staring at the wonderful -and so often forgotten- elegant buildings down there).

eastern building on right

For my thoughts about the downtown artwalk, see some earlier posts, like this recent one. Later I met a colleague and friend for dinner at Blossom and chatted about various issues at work, and our hopes and dreams about downtown, and also the USC campus and neighbourhood.

There has been a lot going on at home that I’ve not told you about. For weeks, part of my dreaming has been taking shape in the real world. It has been wonderful, really, seeing and taking part in this process. What am I talking about? Well, it’s various work on the house, maintenance and otherwise. In arranging various work to be done on the house to address various issues of leaking during the rainy season, tell-tale cracks here and there speaking of deeper problems, and so forth, I decided to also address a long-standing puzzle concerning a structure at the back of the house, overlooking the back garden.

I spent some time happily sitting in a cafe and sketching the whole house from various perspectives, planning out various small details (changing the style of some fence work), some medium (replacing of five leaky windows) and some large (planning the total replacement of the roof, the retrofitting of all the foundations), and so on and so forth with some other things, many of which are rather exciting (I’ll also end up with more garden space). I ended up with a large semi-detailed sketch of the final ideas, with subsidiary sketches showing a few design details, and so forth. Since all of that, I’ve been working almost every day for three months with various teams of workers and contractors to get all these various things done.

Most satisfyingly, I’ve been having a great collaboration with my main contractor on some of the more involved tasks. We really understand each other’s way of thinking, and so it has been a real pleasure to work with him – it has been just like a physics collaboration, actually! He was very pleased to see my drawings, right at the outset, since it makes for much better communication than he is used to with his customers where there can be lots of hand-waving, pointing at pictures of not quite the right thing in catalogues, and potential disappointment and confusion. Here, if I have an idea, I do a detailed sketch of it, with multiple views if needed. It helps immediately with shaping the idea, anticipating problems, and so forth. He can also then come back with his own ideas, and we shape the plans and problem-solve together. It has been just great. Nearly every morning, early (before I begin my own work), we chat over coffee about the ideas, the work so far, crawl around the roof, or some other part of the house, to get to grips with some new challenge (there’s been a lot of bad work from the past -or woefully neglected areas- to set right or totally redo in order to achieve better waterproofing or structural integrity here and there). And every day the whole thing takes shape more and more – I watch the drawings I made enter the real world, take physical form and come to life, and it’s very fulfilling.

Soon it’ll be all done, and it’ll just be me working alone, finishing up some smaller scale projects (such as stripping and refinishing a floor, a window, and repainting parts of several rooms where the windows were changed out, and constructing various things here and there which no doubt I’ll tell you about, as I have in the past (e.g., here, here and here)).

Then there’s the garden to get back to (see the explosion of some roses in the photo above), but that’s another story to tell.

-cvj

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