One of the things I tend to do when on Walkabout is seek out pleasant public spaces in which to work. Sometimes institutions to which I might have some connection might give me access to a guest office, or something similar, but often I go “off the grid”, where the grid here refers to the network of academic connections and arrangements that produces such (generous and vital) courtesies. So every city I spend time in, I try to work build a personal network of hideouts. Sometimes, these are just favourite cafes of one sort or another (you’ve maybe seen posts on those), but at times it can also be libraries or other spaces at one sort of institution or another. Some of them are quite splendid, or simply pleasant or convenient. Among the examples for me are the Santa Monica public library, the (downtown) Los Angeles public library (yes, even close to home I like to get away from my standard offices), the Butler Library at Columbia University in New York, the New York Public Library (where I wrote bits of the book D-Branes), or the British Library in London, the Bodleian in Oxford, and so on and so forth. (I should mention that for some of those, in order to get access to the reading rooms, you might have to registered as a user, and of course, student status or an academic position somewhere is one form of access, so they are a bit closer to the grid than other places where you can just walk in and be entirely anonymous.) Pictured above is another such space, a new find for me, that has turned out to be quite splendid (as well as in an interesting architectural setting). I’m here for a some days, and it has been an excellent quiet refuge from the rain and the bustle of the city outside.

More about where it is, later*…


*You’re welcome to make guesses amongst yourselves. Those who perhaps have inside knowledge should not cheat! 🙂

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12 Responses to Hideouts

  1. Per says:

    Have you ever been an extended period of time in Berlin? Of all the major cities in Europe I don’t think there is a single one with the opportunities that Berlin offer. The city is just packed with small, cheap and cozy cafes. Almost all of them have free access to wireless internet.

    What is more, in all cafes you can have a proper drink if so desired. Naturally, that the beer is great goes without saying, but one can also get decent wine cheap. Also, since there are so many of them (cafes) they are usually rather empty which allows for a quite work environment.

    As you might have guessed by now, I’ve spend a considerable amount of my ph.d work hours in cafes 🙂

  2. kim says:

    what’s wrong with studying at home? There is no time limit and providing it’s quiet why seek out any other place?

  3. Per says:

    In Berlin they are civilized. They choose how long to keep open and the general rule is that they close when the last customer leaves….

  4. robert says:

    Is it in London? The juxtaposition of old and new and a subterranean feel all suggest Kings College on the Strand. I’ve never been inside the KCL library though, so I don’t know if this is it.

  5. Jude says:

    It’s beautiful. All those books (says the librarian)…

  6. formandcontent says:

    Hi Clifford,

    I’m a physics undergrad, and I hope I can ask you this question: If I’m learning modern mathematics with the intention of using it as a theoretical physicist, what is the right perspective or viewpoint to take towards things like topological spaces. What I mean is, for example, I can see how the notion of the fundamental group can be useful in investigating and thinking about the topology of spaces, but I can’t understand the point of the axiomatic definition of a ‘topological space’. Firstly, it seems way too general, since it allows things like S = {a, b, c} to be given a ‘indiscrete topology {S, {}}, which in my mind has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of ‘topology’ in the sense of continuity and stuff. Basically, what is the logical (for want of a better word) place that such definitions should be given in my mind? How should it fit into my thinking and perspective? Obviously I’m not looking at it correctly since the mathematicians found it necessary to introduce such things, so can you give me a litte direction?

  7. Clifford says:

    Dear formandcontent,

    Thanks for your [email] comment. Of course you may ask questions. I can’t promise to always be useful in my answers, but we shall see.

    You ask “what is the right perspective or viewpoint”. My immediate answer to questions of that nature is that there simply is _no_ right perspective or viewpoint. Sorry, but it is not that simple. If we knew in advance what aspects of a subject of research (of the tools to use for it, in this case, some form of mathematics) were the correct ones, or the correct view to have of them, then we’d probably be pretty sure of the answers as well, and then it would not be research.

    I’m not going to talk about your specific example and try to tell you what is right and wrong to learn, because I don’t know. Nobody knows. My own approach to this sort of thing is to just be curious. In any case, it is good (especially when still learning the groundwork of your field, as you are) to find the time to study things that are apparently of no relevance to the things you think you want to learn about. Just learn it in whatever form you can coherently learn it in, whether it be in maths-speak or physics-speak…. as long as it is consistent and coherent. If you can, try to drape it into examples from subjects you like, if you can, but even that is not essential (although sometimes it does help in the learning/motivation)…. One day, you may be pleasantly surprised that your careful work on that stuff suddenly becomes relevant to something you are working on. The fact that you’ve seen it before will help you recognize it when it pops up, or at least help you find the place to go back to in order to dig out more once you know it is relevant. Think of the advantage you’d have as compared to not having looked at it at all…




  8. formandcontent says:

    Thanks, that was helpful.

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  10. Clifford says:

    As for which hideout it was… see the pingback below.


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