Thursday Notes

Continuing the week, here’s Thursday:

  • 6:45am Look out the window toward the sun. Another lovely day seems to be starting, at least with regards the weather. Next hour and a half is spent on similar things to the last three days. Go back and look at the earlier posts (listed at bottom). Except cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese and cherry jam instead of oatmeal, in case you were wondering.
  • 8:15am Not quite ready (shower time warp –see earlier– and other things delayed me), but have 9:00am meeting and should have left by now. Should *just* be able to make it if I’m lucky with the bus, but send quick email to tell the person I’m meeting with I might be ten minutes late.
  • 8:32am I made the bus after all. Saw that other faculty member who rides to the bus stop as I passed her on my way and waved. She made a sort of “Nih!” noise of either recognition or surprise or both. I even took a gamble on the bus and jumped off bike, got newspaper from vending machine (thereby missing a cycle of the lights) and got back into the traffic. Always good to have a bit of derring-do in the morning.

    I really only get the LA Times on Thursdays, with any regularity. Mostly because I like the Weekend section, which has listings of events coming up, and some interesting feature article or two about some LA thing or person or other. They’ve been interesting to me more often than not, on balance. Not always hugely interesting, but enough for a good 25 minutes read on the bus. The Home section can be good too. So I get it just in case there’s something good. Indeed, it pays off, and there are some good things. I’ll point two of them out in some later blog posts, I hope.

  • 9:00am Meet with a bright and enthusiastic student who wants to do a […]

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Notes from Stealth Mode

Continuing, here’s a short notebook on Wednesday.

  • 6:45am A tad annoying that I woke up at this time. I deliberately did not set the alarm so that I could have a bit of a lie-in. Of course, my system woke me up at the usual time anyway. Similar morning ritual to last two times (yes, oatmeal again since I’ve run out of cinnamon-raisin bagels), but no shirt-ironing was involved. I’ve decided to be in stealth mode for most of the day, which means stay entirely away from the campus and work at home.
  • 8:15am Decide to first tinker a bit with the Tuesday diary post. Turns into a bit more of an epic than I intended. Tinker with it and catch up on email for an hour or so.
  • 9:30am Start reading one of the papers I planned to read today. It’s an excellent one from the early 90s by Greg Moore. I’d never appreciated it back […]

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Not all Noteworthy

Continuing, this was the Tuesday:

  • 6:45am… Get up and look outside. Huh. Super clear and sunny. Unexpected, after yesterday. Cup of tea. Check email (delete 30 spams). Look at blog. Slow steady getting ready ritual while listening to NPR: Oatmeal again today, coffee for bike bag and journey in, sandwich for lunch…ironing a shirt…
  • 7:50am Have five-minute shower.
  • 8:05am Get out of shower. Aarrrrrgh! This is one the great mysteries we must solve concerning time, space, life, the universe. There’s nothing in Einstein’s GR about this: Why, when you go into a shower and spend five minutes – in your frame of reference – has 15 or 20 minutes passed by in the outside world?!
  • 8:17am Having gone from leisurely pace to frantic (since I have a 9:00am meeting) I leave home muttering something like “show me the meaning of haste” to the B as I point it toward the bus stop. (As usual, I make a mental note to not turn the haste into a misstep, so I go along my cycle route with purpose, but not abandon. I should make the bus that leaves about 8:27 or so.
  • 8:32am I did. On the bus I plan a future lecture for the string theory course about the role of various dualities in understanding strings. This is from both an historical and physical perspective. The history is interesting, but I’m also keen to present various physics perspectives to give a clear platform to help the younglings see further than what has been seen before. Yes. I said younglings. I know, it was deliberate, because it just sounds so silly.
  • 9:00am Technically this is on the the office hours for the E&M course, but nobody every shows up since (a) It is not the day when, or day before a […]

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Notes From the Day

The other day (some weeks ago now) I started a sort of “day in the life” post, to give you more of an idea of what a typical day was like at work (and maybe also a bit at play). Somehow I never finished it, and then I looked at it a while later and could not remember the rest of the day, and so just deleted it.

I’ve decided to do something different. There really is no typical day. So I will try to do a series of days instead. Of course, I’m not going to have tine to sit and do a long, detailed entry about these days, and so instead I’ll just do a sort of sketchy notebook, with some time stamps. From time to time during the day I’ll stop in and add to it, and then post the whole thing at the end of the day before going to sleep. I won’t include all details (I’ll spare you bathroom breaks, personal grooming, and things of that nature, you’ll be pleased to know), but will try to give you some impressions of how the day goes. If people are interested (and people did ask for such a “day in the life post” before), I might try to do them more frequently. But for now, I’ll try and do one for each day of this week. Average over them to get the typical day.

So here goes.

Well, this work week really started on Sunday night.

  • 11:15 – 11:48 pm (Sun): Thinking about structure of E&M course. When to set the next midterm (we agreed that the previously announced date was too soon). Also thought about what homeworks to set for the last part of electromagnetic waves in dispersive media, and though wave guides. Sent email to whole class about this.
  • 12:30am (Monday) After reading a random entry or two at the ever-brilliant Girls Are Pretty blog (e.g. here), I fall asleep listening to podcast of the BBC’s wonderful Broadcasting House (radio 4). I still miss the excellent Eddie Mair, but this new guy seems pretty good.
  • 7:15am (Monday) (Later rising today since it is Monday and I don’t have any early appointments and I try to get a good night’s sleep when I can.) Over cup of tea, read email. Delete about 30 spam messages that have arrived overnight. I note the kind letter from Dean X at institution Y acknowledging receipt of the long detailed letter in support of a promotion for candidate Z, and thanking me. Good that he/she did that. Took a good chunk of Friday and Sunday afternoon to write that epic.
  • 7:45am Not in a rush to go in yet, I have a longer breakfast – cooked some […]

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That Feeling

It is on the list of my top five all-time favourite feelings. But I know of no word for it in English that properly captures it. This is strange, since so much of our society relies on things that probably came about in accompaniment with this feeling. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it come on so strongly that it feels like a switch has been flicked inside my head, with an almost audible “click”, often accompanied by a smile, an oral exclamation, or even a moan. Why can I not think of a word for it? Perhaps my vocabulary is failing me, but if there is not such a word, then we should set about forging a new one, since it is so important.

What am I talking about? […] Click to continue reading this post

Those Fun Paper Titles

Scanning the listings on the arxiv just now, I found what has to be the best paper title I’ve seen for a while:

“Would Bohr be born if Bohm were born before Born?”

It is a paper by H. Nikolic, in the history of physics classification, and I have not read it, but I love the title. It’s brilliant!

This reminds me of the process that happens to me sometimes when I’m working on a research project. I suddenly think of a really great title, and then get excited about finishing the project so that I can write the paper with that title! (You’ll have noticed that I do that with some of my blog posts too.) It’s often just a nice turn of phrase, like […] Click to continue reading this post

Not Improbable

elaine chewOn Wednesday night, accompanied by Tameem, a student of mine, I wandered across campus to attend the “Mathematics in Music” event. I blogged about it earlier. I don’t really want to talk about the event itself in this post. It was a nice enough recital of three pieces. I don’t know why, but the promised “mathematics” was disappointingly virtually non-existent. I’m not exaggerating, I’m afraid.

Keep in mind that it may simply just be my misunderstanding of the intent of the event, but there’s simply next to nothing to report in the way of what was said about mathematical aspects of music. There were plenty of opportunities, but (almost) none were taken. I got out my notebook and pen, all excited at what the presenters might say at various points… and the mathematics never showed up. There were a few extremely elementary remarks about tonal ratios in chords, about scales, keys, and time, and that was it, more or less. This was a bit of a shame, since I suspect that Elaine Chew could have talked at length and with some authority on the matter (given the projects she’s involved in see e.g. here), but mathematics was almost completely missing in the event – despite the title. I imagine there were what seemed like good reasons for this. I was not party to decisions made behind the scenes, so cannot comment further.

More interestingly on that front was what took place in the minutes leading up to the delayed start of the event. First, although it was a free event, they pointed us to the box office where an attendant printed us two tickets from the computer so that we can show them to someone at the door who wasn’t really looking anyway. Fine. We got into the recital hall, but rather than sitting at the obvious available seats, I suggested that we move to the other side of the room where one can get a better view of the piano keyboard. I’m less than happy when I can’t see what a musician is doing, you see, so I always try to sit with the pianist’s view of the piano. So we did that, and found two seats. While we chatted and looked around us at the growing assembly, I spotted a friend and colleague of mine, the composer Veronika Krausas. She was in the company of someone who she introduced as Brian Head, who is a composer, performer (guitar) and music theorist (a “triple threat”, Veronika joked), also in USC’s Thornton school of music. They were looking for seats and there was one on either side of the two we were sitting in, and so they joined us and we chatted some more.

When the event start was about ten or fifteen minutes late -they were trying to get the reassuringly large crown all seated, they announced- Veronika idly looked at her ticket, pointed out that they were numbered, and wondered if we should have been […] Click to continue reading this post

I Love It Every Time

I love teaching undergraduate electromagnetism. It has such an elegance, logic, and completeness about it. It introduces such a host of powerful techniques and ideas to the student, taking them across the threshold into maturity in their physics studies: Once you’ve done electromagnetism, you don’t usually think about large chunks … Click to continue reading this post

Unexpectedly On YouTube

third law jet demoI don’t know why this possibility did not occur to me before. So let me give you a heads up if you do demos in your lectures. In Physics 100 (which I taught last semester) and in Astro 100 especially, we do a lot of demos to demonstrate various physics concepts. I did a post on the Newton’s third law jet propulsion demo some time ago (linked photo right). My colleague Ed Rhodes did this same demo in his Astro 100 class.

He received an email from one of the students in the class recently saying “Congratulations, you’ve been YouTubed…”.

Apparently, one of the students in the class used his or her mobile phone camera to […] Click to continue reading this post

All Hands on Deck

all hands on deck Well, it’s the middle of the Bleak Midwinter, and the first day of classes of the new semester. Mine start tomorrow. It is time to get myself back into the classroom-teaching frame of mind -although to be honest I don’t think the break was long enough for me to have got sufficiently far removed from it: 85% of the research tasks that I wanted to do during the break remain undone.

Anyway, I must sit and contemplate what I am going to talk about in the graduate course entitled “Selected Topics in Particle Physics”. It’s my lunch break, so I thought I’d chat to you for a bit.

Rumour has it that everyone is expecting some sort of string theory course, reasonably complementary to the one that my colleague Nick Warner taught here two years ago. I’ve no interest in just teaching the standard string theory topics – a good and motivated graduate student can just look them up in a book if motivated enough (if they can’t they’re in the wrong business) – and so I’d like to throw in some material that is not packaged together in the standard way, and give them an education that emphasizes powerful ideas and techniques that are relevant to more than just standard string theory research, but theoretical physics in general.

You see, this is one of the wonderful things about the topic that you don’t hear about much when people say things (and write books for a general audience) about how much it is supposedly taking over smart young minds and leading them astray: It is a fantastic framework for training good physicists for whatever new and useful ideas and physics will come along in the future, whether it is string theory or some other topic. The point is that string theory has developed in so many different ways, and […] Click to continue reading this post