Take Part in the Festival!

I’ve just returned from a rather wonderful two rainy days in Santa Barbara celebrating the work of Joe Polchinski. (See my previous post for more about this, including a few reflections.) It was a combination of high school reunion, group hug (with Joe in the center), and serious reflection about physics, now, back then, and to come. Now the great news is that pretty much everything was recorded on video, and so you can take part in it by settling down in front of your computer (or other device – those of you in the further (but pre-singularity) future can just instruct the appropriate plug-in from [Cyberdine systems ] [Tyrell Corporation] Google to stream directly to the vision centres of your brain) and view the various excellent talks and panel discussions here.

I had the honour of chairing (and contributing to) one of the panel discussions reflecting on D-branes (as I promised last post). The title was “D-Branes: Tools of the Revolution” and it went very well thanks to my three excellent panelists (Greg Moore, Andreas Karch and Samir Mathur) and many members of the gathered audience who contributed to the free-form discussion in the 15 minutes at the end. Have a look at that right along side the really interesting and lively discussion that Steve Shenker chaired at the end of the conference (which sadly I had to miss because I had to get back to LA through the rainstorm for another engagement). The idea there was to speculate a bit about the future of physics and thereby “Planning for Joe’s 90th Birthday“.

Enjoy.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Face Time

You know those cross-country trips that nip from one coast to another for a day and then back? There are people who do that regularly for a living. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. I left LA on Monday to go to a meeting in DC, and returned on Tuesday night, and while nothing unpleasant happened en route (and the meeting at the DC office of the American Physical Society was good), it is really not something I’d make a habit of. I like to add a bit of time to see the place I’m visiting, and get a bit of a feel of the pulse before flying back. But there wasn’t time. I was in DC for a day and a half last November to visit another organization, and I did manage to get two hours to wander the mall and have sandwich in the cafe of the Smithsonian, but I’d have liked a bit more time back then too. Anyway…

I did, however, get some face time. On take off on the flight back I flipped through Hemispheres (United’s in flight magazine) to see if there were any more large faces airline_sketches_9th_july_2013to sketch. (You’ll recall several earlier posts about my liking to do this for practice [...] Click to continue reading this post

Chicago

I find myself in a cold climate for a short while, once again serving on a committee that needs my in-person participation. It is snowing outside here in Chicago, and it is nice to look at the snow from the window, and occasionally pop from one building to another.

This allows me to pretend that as a Southern-California-softy I’ve had my annual dose of proper cold weather, with a real opportunity to wear a heavy coat and a thick jumper (sweater to those State-side) for at least one time this year. My hotel room is in a tower, and has a nice view out of the window. I tried to take a shot that captures the spirit of it. Pity I’m not able to enjoy it much, given [...] Click to continue reading this post

Travelling Activity

While I was apparently catching that horrible flu virus early last week during the travelling I was doing, I was killing time with a few sketching games I tend to do while travelling. I was grabbing faces. A moderately careful face grab is to look through whatever magazines I have to hand (such as the in-flight magazine) and see if there are interesting faces… then I might do a quick or longer drawing of one or two that I find. Sometimes they are familiar people, as is perhaps the case with the one I show to the left. This was not intended to be super-careful, and was rather quickly done, but it turned out to be nicer than I expected.

I was simply drawing with a pen and not trying to be very accurate, and just capture expression and structure of the face, but my eye was in and so… (I’d have used pencil if I was planning to go for accuracy…) I liked it enough to finish it up when I got home and throw some watercolour (pencils and then water brush) on to it. (I took a quick snap of the magazine photo before I left to allow me to recall some features for finishing.)

I’ll spare you the other ones I did in that mode. Not for public consumption! [...] Click to continue reading this post

Recovery and Jumping Back in

So that was by far the most ill I’ve been in many years. The flu wore on for five days, with two and a half of them having me mostly in delirium, fighting highs and lows of fevers… quite remarkable. Then I had two extra days of eating very little, so that by time I started eating real food again on Saturday, and going outside, it was as though the world had been made anew to see and taste various things I’d not had in a while…

Ok… I suppose this means maybe next flu season I’ll finally start taking flu shots? We’ll see.

Anyway, I am reasonably sure that I caught that virus while passing through Atlanta airport on my way back from New Orleans. There, so many paths cross as it is a major hub. Spending two hours there gave me ample time to pick something up. Then there’s the plane as well, with four hours to sit in one space in contact with the things a possibly infected traveller before me had contact with. Nice.

I’ve been much better for a few days now, and semester has got going here. I’ve given [...] Click to continue reading this post

Beginnings

I’m in New Orleans for a few days. Exciting, as I’ve never been here before, but it has been on my list of cities to visit for a long time…

I thought I’d share with you the above photo of an important (to me) artifact that I visited in the old US Mint building, which has a number of exhibits. This is the cornet that, as a boy, Louis Armstrong leaned to play trumpet on!

This is sort of a big deal for me. It would be like finding a set of notebooks that the young[...] Click to continue reading this post

Q Train Guy

After arriving back home from New York on Sunday night (late) my next tasks were to sleep and wake up super-early to write some lecture notes on various approaches to treating diffraction (vectorized Kirchhoff integrals and so forth) for my class, and to grade several weeks of homework assignments…. all before the day’s guest (Howie Haber from UC Santa Cruz) arrived to visit and give us a departmental colloquium entitled “The Higgs Boson Unleashed”. It was great, and included discussion of new results from the LHC announced just last week. Then there was dinner in one of the excellent new downtown restaurants where I seem to have become a regular (nice to be remembered by the wait staff sometimes).

Today I must think about what I’m going to say in a colloquium I must give at Cal State Long Beach on Monday… But before then I think I need to have a slow day as I’ve really not stopped being in extreme headlong motion on various projects and deadlines for over three weeks now.

Of course, I do try to create moments of quiet whenever I can. It is important to me. Sketching practice helps. I’d taken my watercolour pencils and little portable fillable [...] Click to continue reading this post

So Good They Named It Twice

Well, it is great to be back in New York. Multiple times this year – hurrah! I’ve just got back from the Times Center where all the speakers have been running through their talks to smooth out kinks of various kinds (technical glitches, run time, etc). The senior TED people are here sitting in the auditorium and one by one we come up and go through things to give us a chance to get familiar with the stage, and to hear any thoughts or comments. (See tiny picture on the left.) People have done really good jobs preparing, and so most comments are simply ones of congratulations, with some small suggestions here and there with regards points of confusion, or sound levels, or run time. We’ve got six minutes. You heard me right – I must explain all of particle physics and research in string theory in six minutes. I like my challenges… Well, I spent a lot of time designing the content of the talk [...] Click to continue reading this post

Travels

I find myself on the East Coast for the first of two trips over here in two weeks. Next week I return to be in New York for the TEDYouth event (which I am still making slides for when I find some time here and there between the tasks I’m doing for this trip). This week’s trip means I’m missing two of my electromagnetism graduate classes, which I feel bad about because it is such an enjoyable group to teach*.

I must say that it is nice to get to wear serious outerwear for the first time in a while. I know – this is a particularly unoriginal thing you hear from a lot of us softies from the SouthWestern part of the US, and I apologize for saying it, but it is true! It is sometimes sad to see a nice heavy coat sit unused in a closet for a year or more, and there’s also a nice grounded feeling [...] Click to continue reading this post

Gifts from the North Sea

In Rotterdam a couple of weekends ago, the North Sea Jazz Festival took place. It was an excellent event. Well, I think it was, based on my Saturday trip there with some friends – I assume that the other two days were at least as good. We were there from the start at about 4:00pm until about 11:30pm, when we went back (via trains, with an adventure story for another day) to Amsterdam. Seven and a half hours is a good amount of time for some excellent music to be heard and seen…

Turns out that there was great news for me right from the get go on this event. One of my favourite saxophonists from the younger generation playing out there these days, Joshua Redman, was the artist in residence for the event this year, and he did two concerts that day, in different configurations. (I say younger… I’ve been following his work for 20 years, since I first arrived in the USA all the way back (Princeton), shortly after his second album appeared. He was one of the hot new musicians on the scene at the time… But that was 20 years ago, so I suppose it’s time to use a different term…?)

I’ve seen him play a number of times over the years, on both coasts, in tiny clubs and in larger concert halls, and he’s always been great. This time he was probably the best I’ve ever seen him, and that’s saying something, since he’s usual so very good, along with the musicians he has in his bands. This time he’s part of a newer band called “James [...] Click to continue reading this post

All Work and No Play…

One of my favourite scenes from the vast world of film is the one in the Shining where Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) discovers that all her husband Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) had been writing on the typewriter for so long (when he was supposed to be working on his book) was “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, again and again and again. There’s something utterly chilling about this, as the tension in the film has been building steadily, and the discovery reveals another seemingly solid foundation crumbling away…

The Eye film museum in Amsterdam is fantastic. For a start, it is in a wonderful building (see right -click for larger view) that you get to by taking one of the small ferry boats across from the Central Station, a fun journey. Right now they are having [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Bridge

The workshop has been fantastic, overall. In between discussions, the talks, and some thinking about my own projects, I’ve had some time to wander a bit, and look around. Yesterday after lunch I wandered a bit and then found myself settling down and doing a sketch of a bridge at a junction with lots to see. The Amstel is joined by Prinsengracht canal here, and it was fun to sit a while and put down some pencil lines, followed by firmer ink lines. I pulled the result into the iPad and splashed on some colour for good measure.

Having finished the paper last week, it has been fun to field questions about it from various people, as well as think at a more leisurely pace about the next [...] Click to continue reading this post

Slow Writing

Well, the workshop is going well. I had to miss a talk this morning in order to carry on with this writing of a paper I was doing. Basically, we’re over due in producing our submission to a special volume of some publication or other that is going to be all about magnetic fields and models of strongly coupled matter… As you may have gathered by now, I’ve dabbled in magnetic fields for some several years by now, so it was natural to be asked. My collaborator in a lot of these dabblings, Tameem Albash, and a student, Scott MacDonald, and I have been working on a suitable project for a while, and due to my travels and entanglements with a previous project, I’ve made us all a bit late.

The last few days have been difficult for writing. I’d forgotten [...] Click to continue reading this post

Amsterdam!

20120703-164422.jpgAmsterdam! I’m here for a workshop for a while. It is on string theory – many aspects – and so the mix of people is a good one overall, with conversations ranging from high energy physics, the LHC (including the Higgs announcement at CERN expected tomorrow) and black holes all the way over to condensed matter and various kinds of exotic physics one can do in the laboratory in that context. It should be an excellent time here… It is good to be back in the city after over a decade, and to catch up with a number of friends and colleagues in the field. I also want to properly explore the city this time, not having done that much exploration last time. (Photo above is a snap taken of the lovely moon that came out last night, with the Amstel and accompanying reflections and so forth… Was pretty to see.)

I’ve been trying to read some notes in preparation for working on a draft of a [...] Click to continue reading this post

Bob

I got a little sketch practice here and there where I could during the trip. On the return journey for example, I found a nice opportunity as we were preparing to land after the short flight from Aspen to Denver.

Bob Melisso, my co-Producer/Director was reading a magazine, and so was still for long(ish) moments at a time – enough for me to do a quick sketch of him in profile. It was reasonably successful. It was his birthday recently, so this made a sort of present. He seemed to like it…

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Opening!

Finally!

The Expo line will be opening (after an incredibly long testing phase) on April 28th. I’ll be there, Brompton in hand, to test it out, I think. A couple of articles on it appeared in the LA Weekly and the LA Times.

I’ve been excited about this for a while, not just because there’ll be a station across the street from my office, essentially (and the fact that when phase two is completed in 2015, or thereabouts, I’ll be able to step out of my office and board a train for the beach), but because I [...] Click to continue reading this post

Trumpet Solo

20120217-160909.jpgThis is a snap of a sketch I started while sitting in the Village Vanguard (New York) the other night while listening to the Mark Turner (ts) quartet play. On trumpet was Avishai Cohen, who was really excellent. This quick sketch, very incomplete, was assembled from several glimpses of him when he’d return to this pose, or more or less… Anyway, it was a fun exercise (I’d started another larger sketch of the whole band, but decided it went off balance after a while and so did not complete it). [...] Click to continue reading this post

My Other People

On my last day at the KITP in Santa Barbara (this visit) last week I decided, for old times’ sake, to go for a walk along the beach, to the pier, while reading two papers I wanted to think about. It seemed preferable to sitting inside at my desk, and it was a lovely day. I took my notebook/sketchbook just in case I wanted to make notes or sketch something interesting. It also seemed important to go along that beach at a proper slow pace since I’ve not been along there for many years, and it holds a lot of memories for me. (It is, for example, the beach I used to visit late at night – through midnight and beyond – regularly, to teach myself to play the trumpet… part of a story I may have shared with you once before.)

Anyway, while wandering along, and just before the pier, I noticed a group of people all sitting together out on the sand. I looked up from my papers to see what they were up to and realized that they were doing exactly what I thought I might do – they [...] Click to continue reading this post

Handbook Extract, 2 – Warnings

In addition to the CMC staff handbook, I also got the mechanical crew handbook, which was originally drawn by Jim McEleny, and then revised in 1974 by Ted Mullings, who I told you about in the earlier post. The pages are more sparsely done in this one, but there’s still some great humour here and there… (Click for larger views….) [...] Click to continue reading this post

Handbook Extract, 1

Not long ago I was in Leadville, a mining town you get to from Aspen by going over Independence pass and then down into the valley. (It is apparently North America’s highest -in elevation- incorporated town, being at over 10K feet… Its roots are in gold and silver mining, starting back in the mid 19th Century.) I love visiting the big store that sells all sorts of curiosities and antiques there, and then after wading through lots of bits and pieces, going to the saloon bar for Irish coffees.

This time I actually bought something. Two things in fact – Some old handbooks for mine crew personnel of the Climax Molybdenum Company, from 1978. They are quite small, about 5 by 4 inches, but they are packed with delightfully presented dos and don’ts about how to do the job, including safety practices, and warnings about what might go wrong if you do things the wrong way. I particularly love the fact that the pages are [...] Click to continue reading this post

Peak

After just having walked down a few minutes from Electric Pass Peak back towards the Pass (the peak is a fun 13635 ft / 4156 m elevation), I remembered to take this short panorama to show the surroundings. You can see the peak just descended in the middle of the film, and just before you’ll see Cathedral Lake in the distance, along with the meadow of wild flowers through which the hike to the peak takes you.

The 15 seconds of film is after the fold: [...] Click to continue reading this post

Maroon Ride

Toward the end of the week I gave in. Howie Haber had been regularly going on these long rides and suggesting that I come along. The one I would have done for sure, I said (truthfully) was the one with the tasty reward at the end – to Pine Creek Cookhouse – but the one that had been planned was two days after I arrived, and I did not think it was a good idea for me to do it without having acclimatized to the altitude. You may recall that a few years ago I did do that 12 mile route on a ride led by Howie, and it was fantastic. See the post here. So he asked me a couple more times to join a few riding up to Maroon Lake, which he was doing every other day, remarkably. It was a similar distance (well, a bit shorter – 10 miles) with perhaps a more steady, relentless climb to make up the 1500 ft altitude gain. But I did not get my mind into gear on the whole idea for some time (maybe especially since there was no tasty meal as a reward at the top). Then on Wednesday I gave in and stopped by Howie’s office and said I’d join him on Friday.

brompton folding bikeSo Friday morning we set off, joined by a few others (including Josh Frieman), for a lovely ride. Pretty quickly we separated out into our various paces and pointed ourselves up the valley (I warned my co-riders at the beginning not to wait for me as I have a slower pace on the Brompton – the beauty in the photo on the right). I eventually got into a good rhythm and made steady progress. While I was not as strong as I was in 2008 (or perhaps not as well-motivated?), I still enjoyed it, although there were times when I did ask myself out loud “why am I doing this?!”, but that was usually after the dashing of false hope when I thought I was almost there only to round a corner and see the road stretching [...] Click to continue reading this post

Carmageddon Reaction

Atlantic Station on Gold Line East LA Branch(Scroll to the end of this post for the funny thing I actually intended to post without my own musings getting in the way…) It has certainly been a huge story, with national and maybe even international attention been given to it. Carmageddon is the name given to the event of the 405 highway being closed for a 10 mile stretch for most of this weekend, for maintenance purposes. People are warning of disaster, complaining, predicting calamities for business, stocking up on food supplies, and so on and so forth. Some people are angry, some are amused, some are confused. For the most part however, people are quietly making sensible plans to adjust their routines or plans to take account of the event. (Er, I’m not sure I’d include flying from Burbank to Long Beach among the sensible plans!*)

I’m sort of struck by the huge impact this is having in people’s minds, and it has raised all sorts of discussions, reflections, and arguments about the reliance on cars that people have, public transport, and so on and so forth. All subjects you’ve maybe read being discussed here over the years. (Search the archives and/or use the search bar to the right.) The clichés about there being “no public transport” in LA is a convenient one for all to use at times (or all the time) when we want to stay in our nice cosy cars and ignore the alternatives and the possibility of making adjustments to include even occasional use of them, but I readily admit that the West side is a lot closer to the standard image of Los Angeles in this regard than points further East (still staying decidedly North-leaning in the discussion of course – the South LA conversation is an interesting one for another time). The density of shops, cafes, and long, desirably walkable stretches with other pedestrians (yes, they do exist in LA) does indeed seem lower over there, and while there is some bus coverage, the lower density makes the flaws of that part of the transport system hurt more, and of course the subway/metro [...] Click to continue reading this post

Lounging

20110416-220116.jpgI’m lounging around. In Cincinnatti Ohio. Why? Well, it has been a long day, and I’m tired. I spent the whole day yesterday traveling to get here, changing planed in Chicago, eventually getting to my hotel at 10:00 pm, having arisen at 6:00am. I spent the flying time thinking about physics and writing the talk I was invited to give here as part of the regional SPOCK meeting at the University of Cincinnatti. The letters stand for something, but I can’t recall what it is right now. It does not mean, as the title might suggest, that several emotionally-challenged and otherwise tv-cliche-handicapped individuals were meeting to discuss arcane matters in a room somewhere. It was a meeting of several people from the region’s string theory community to discuss…. Ok, ok, Ok…stop giggling!

I got up at 7:00am -really 4:00am my time- transferred all my pages of notes to the iPad, and got ready, leaving to do the short (I assumed) walk to the physics department in the wind and rain. I enjoyed that bit… I had however mis-estimated how long it would take me to get to the Physics department building, largely due to [...] Click to continue reading this post

Ocotillo

flowers_at_joshua_tree_1_1I was in Joshua Tree for a couple of days on the weekend, camping and hanging with some friends. It was a very pleasant time indeed, with groups of us taking turns making meals, and with bouts of talking and walking here and there, and sleeping in our tents listening to the evening wind howling at times.

Here’s a closeup (click for larger view) of a flower bundle of the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens ), which is just a stunning plant.

The whole bush is pictured below.

[...] Click to continue reading this post

Pincushion

fremont_pincushion_death_valley_2It does look a bit like a coconut macaroon, and a particularly tasty one, but I must report that it is in fact an example of a Fremont pincushion (chaenactis fremontii), a white flower blooming in the deserts of the South West. I took this one in Death Valley yesterday. (It is Spring break, and I decided to get away for a bit.) Click for a larger view. There’s a tiny little creature of some sort perched on one of [...] Click to continue reading this post

Purépecha

purepecha_woman_28_07_10_smallHere’s a sketch I did either in the airport or on the plane back from Morelia last June. Well, it was certainly finished on the plane, I think. You will recall that I was in Mexico to give some lectures on string theory at a quantum gravity school (see here and here and the related posts links below). As part of the practice and experimentation I was doing at the time (for The Project), I was drawing interesting faces, sometimes from photographs, like for this one. You just hold the photo in one hand (this one on the screen of my camera) and sketch it. I was working on a 8.5inx11in sketchpad with a charcoal pencil, I think. (I was trying to be quick, and I think it was about 15 or 20 minutes work.) The photo was taken a day or two before in the village of Pátzcuaro. I think I’d mentioned my visit there to you in an earlier post, but had showed you no images except some clocks.

Well, a funny/nice thing happened. The guy sitting next to me two seats over spoke [...] Click to continue reading this post

Schiele Surprise

schiele_kniende-im-orangenOne of the things I am very happy with from my recent explorations in Vienna was my proper discovery of Egon Schiele. Somehow he’d not been on my radar before, and while I enjoyed looking at lots of rock-star famous excellent work by Gustav Klimt, it was Schiele who, out of the two, really captivated me on this trip. (More on another artist later.) So as to not startle you while eating your morning wheaties, I’ll spare you one or two of my favourite drawings/paintings of his that spring most immediately to mind, and instead show you the one on the right, which is very striking (Kneeling female in orange-red dress, 1910). He seems to have had a thing for orange/red, I’ve noticed. Or maybe it is I who notice it a lot in his work. I mostly love that many of his paintings are very much like line drawings with colour added, and since his line drawing work is [...] Click to continue reading this post

I Gotta Get Me One O’ These!

p-2048-1536-a738e2a5-eaa1-450b-9a0a-ed526300dc23.jpegSome of you will recognize the blue box in the picture on the left that I took recently while travelling. I have two things to mention in connection with it, but first let me mention that it is indeed what you think it is, but not really. In other words, it is in London (Earl’s Court), and it is a classic Police box (well, a modern relaunch), but it is not (as far as I am aware) also a disguised remarkable time machine owned by a somewhat eccentric renegade Time Lord. Ok?

Ok, thing number one. I don’t get the BBC America channel, but they kindly were dumping on to On Demand the episodes of the new season of Dr. Who, with the new writer and the new actor, so one day I thought I’d have a look. Just to get myself annoyed, because (sorry fans of its recent years) over the years I usually get ridiculously annoyed at how utterly stupid the show is, with lots of pointless running, and overacting, and cheap, crappy, silly plots and sets and so forth, and get even more annoyed when I remember it is mostly deliberate – we are supposed to enjoy the hokeyness in the spirit of nostalgia for the time many decades ago when it was on a super low budget but was ahead of its time. And I get more annoyed when I think that people abroad are watching this and thinking it is a prime example of great British television. Then I turn it off and ignore it for a year or two, and then do it all again. So anyway, I did that this time, back in the Spring. And guess what? [...] Click to continue reading this post

New Bounty, and Homeward Bound

white_figsBack in Los Angeles, things at home started on a rather pleasant note. I went out into the garden and picked four nice ripe figs off one of the trees, still warm from the sunlight. (Hmmmm… My nemesis, Fluffy, must be napping. Or planning something very subtle.) You can see three of them in my hand to the left. A fourth did not survive the wait period while I got my camera out of my luggage.

Sunday in Vienna was as interesting as Saturday, with more outdoor components than indoors since it was a lovely day, weather-wise. I wandered the city streets a lot, and spent a fair amount of time getting a feel for them, occasionally hopping on the subway (U-bahn) or a tram to nip over large distances, or to rest my feet. Other rest stops involved cafes for a beer, or a cup of tea, and a bit of people watching, reading, or other pleasant sitting activity.

Like Saturday, I saw a lot of art on Sunday, focusing again on Austrian artists primarily, and learning about the Secession movement in particular, and several of the characters associated with it. Fascinating.

I’ll do a post or two more on Vienna later on, I hope.

I left the city in the evening, heading for a brief stop in London before setting my sights on Los Angeles on Monday. Found myself in the amusing position of watching [...] Click to continue reading this post

Outshine

l-640-480-d044a0bd-8d6a-4a37-af29-7487b2205058.jpegI gave my seminar at the workshop yesterday and said goodbye to friends old and new, colleagues, staff, and so on. Today is a hello to tourist mode, with me exploring aspects of Vienna. It is raining today, so it is a good thing that I’d planned to spend a lot of time looking at art indoors.

I’m resting in the cafe at MUMOK (Museum Moderner Kunst), between bouts of exploration of the exhibits. There’s a modern art and modern science (together, and of course modern means early 20th Century) exhibit on the upper floors. They have the usual chatter [...] Click to continue reading this post

Oh Vienna!

l-2048-1536-e513c70e-9db7-4c90-a4b6-4317082eb9ec.jpegVienna. (Yes, the 80s song’s refrain did ring in my head as I arrived. No, I still have no clue what the lyrics mean.)

I am at the Erwin Schrodinger Institute (named after one of the co-discoverers of the modern Quantum theory upon which so much of our science and technology depends, in case you were wondering – he with the cat) for a while. There is a workshop here on the study of aspects of nuclear physics using holographic methods from string theory, a topic I’ve told you quite a bit about before. This is week one, and there are some longer survey talks that have been put on to set the scene and get everyone on the same page. It is an excellent way to start a workshop. As a bonus, present are some of my old friends from my postdoc days who I last saw in Madrid earlier this year, Karl Landsteiner (one of the organizers) and Esperanza Lopez, (you may recall me chatting a bit about those days in an earlier post), and, as icing on the cake, to my surprise Rob Myers, a friend and collaborator from even further back, is here too.

It is not just about old friends and colleagues, but new ones too. I’ve met and re-met [...] Click to continue reading this post

Come On LA!

p-2048-1536-5f4d380e-a365-44ad-9eb7-fc7a9f2c2bf3.jpegPerhaps ironically, since I tune into BBC Radio 4 every day when in Los Angeles, I’ve not been listening to it or any other UK radio or news source while here in London at all. So imagine my pleasant surprise on Thursday when I came across what clearly looked like a docking station for bikes (as opposed to super-fancy bike racks, which I thought it was at first)! Sure enough, once I got closer I confirmed it – a bike sharing scheme was starting in London. By the next day I saw some more stations on my walks, and a truck driving along full of the bikes, presumably going to load up the stations. As it turned out, I learned later that the scheme started that very next day, and today I saw several people out riding on them!

I am a little disappointed about one thing. I wanted to try them out and be out there seeing the streets of the city from one of these bikes instead of on foot (as I have been doing a lot in the last several days), but guess what? [...] Click to continue reading this post

The Scary Stairs

l-2048-1536-655079d2-52f2-4383-962d-ae6e85ebb910.jpegThese stairs have a lot of significance for me. They are at Dartmouth House, just North of Piccadilly, in London’s Mayfair district. There you will find the home of the English-Speaking Union. The ESU is a charity that has an interesting history, all based on promoting friendship, communion and understanding amongst the English-Speaking nations and people of the world. This might seem an odd thing to build an organization on, but it might make more sense if you read the history. In any case, there are so many organizations of all sorts doing things, and in the scheme of things this is as good a reason as any to bring people together. The ESU administers a number of grants, fellowships, and scholarships, among other things, and one of them is the Lindemann fellowship. It is a one year postdoctoral stipend that you can get fresh out of your PhD, and it is designed to give young people a taste of America. It is highly competitive (only a couple are given out each year), and the final decision is made on the basis of an interview. You come up these stairs, all nervous and under stress since it is probably the first major interview upon which your career might depend, and the surrounding fancy parts of London may have helped make it all weigh a bit on your mind. You wait at the top of the stairs near the piano and listen for your name to be called and then you are ushered into the room and put in front of the interview panel.

I know this since I was here in 1992, being interviewed. I had set my sights on [...] Click to continue reading this post

Pub Breakfast

p-2048-1536-3e449aa4-72a9-4dcd-bac1-d73bb46ae5c3.jpegI find myself in the odd situation of being in a pub in London well before 9:00am, having breakfast. No, things have not got so bad that I’m resorting to alcohol so early in the day, you’ll be relieved (I hope) to hear. (Things are good, on balance. Thanks for asking.) It is just that I took a rather strangely timed flight over from Los Angeles that meant that I was flying during peak waking hours in my body’s internal clock, and then arriving at 6:30am London time. This meant that I did not do my usual trick of getting at least some sleep on the flight…. So I find myself in London bright and early – way too early to check into my hotel. I’m groggy and hungry. Happily I found a pub [...] Click to continue reading this post