Monday, October 31, 2005

Hopefully this post will be a little lighter than the previous one.

So, two days to go and having completed most of my tasks, I've had time to think about the coming prospects and am now feeling pretty nervous. Today has been pretty relaxed with some present buying from Oxford to give to hosts when I go for dinner. I figure calendars of Oxford should go down reasonably well. After that I had a chance to sit in a cafe for one last time before I leave and continued with The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. It's a bit of a strange novel where the plot is not great but the style is...well...nice. Damning with faint praise perhaps. I wouldn't particularly recommend it as one of my favourite Booker prize winners by any means and I still think that Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell should have beaten the competition hands down last year. I guess my problem with it is that the book is trying to cover too many topics in one go and the author has a habit of imbuing his characters with what I presume are the traits in himself which he most admires.

Anyway, a pleasant enough way to spend a lunchtime. After all that exertion I thought I should treat myself to a cinema visit which I haven't done for a while. The only film showing was Broken Flowers which I heard mixed reviews about. It's a Jim Jarmusch film and having only seen one of his before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The only other film of his I've seen is Coffee and Cigarettes which is a strange film with stars taking on odd personas or playing themselves, chatting over coffee and cigarettes. It's essentially a sketch film with little continuity (though a few themes running through it) where some of the sketches miss by a long way but some are superb. There's a bizzare scene between Bill Murray and some of the Wu Tang Clan which is excellent and the very last scene is touching. Iggy Pop and Tom Waites is also worth a look and there's a strange one with Cate Blanchett which I shan't say any more about. Broken Flowers also stars Bill Murray who seems to be morphing slowly into a caricature of Soviet leaders. This film is filled with the same awkward pauses that are in some of the Coffee and Cigarettes sketches and though I really enjoyed the film, I never forgot that it was Bill Murray that I was watching. He seemed like the same broken, dishearted character of Lost in Translation. Perhaps not his fault but he seems to be being typecast a little since its success.

Changing direction completely, I've been in contact with Jim, who I mentioned in a previous post. He works for a company called goldenfuels which is developing biodiesels, specifically diesel from used cooking oil. It's a nice little website and has a link to an interesting cartoon on climate change. It's pretty polemical though admits towards the end that its opinions are speculative. I think the arguments should be compulsory reading though taken with a scientific open-mind. There's some scary stuff in there but whether or not it's exaggerated, it should be taken on board with due seriousness.

So now, hopefully all I have to do is pack this evening and tomorrow and then head out East to see what adventures await. I'm hoping that future posts will be a little more exotic than Hollywood movies and popular books.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I've put a sitetracker on this site. Again if people find this intrusive I'm happy to remove it rather than put any people, who are strange enough to read this garbage, off. However, I am intrigued as to who is reading it. I've now put my e-mail address in my profile so people can get in contact. I'm especially interesting in who from the States is reading this though I guess it's probably people from TASI. I'd be interested if you'd like to get in contact via e-mail and tell me what you're up to now.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Apologies for this rather long post and indeed its rambling nature.

It feels like weeks now since I've thought about much physics. Things have been so frantic organising for China that I really haven't had much of a chance. I've been reading the title of the newly submitted papers to the arxiv but that's about it. The arxiv is both a hugely invaluable tool and a great time waster simultaneously. People affiliated to physics institutions can upload their papers they've written without any external revue. This makes it very easy to disseminate information and new findings. Generally in the section that I try and keep up with there are around 20 new papers each day. The title and absctract of each one is shown and even if you don't read them, you can get a pretty good idea of what are the hot topics.

Anyway, I went back to Southampton on Thursday to hand in my hard-bound thesis and finally get a piece of paper confirming my status as Doc Shock. Every Thursday in Southampton there is an internal seminar within the high energy physics group. This Thursday was a particularly good review of some of the physics that may be discovered in the next couple of generations of particle accelerators. I thought I'd give a brief overview so stop reading now if you're not interested in the really exciting prospects ahead.

In 2007 the next generation of particle accelerators is due to be turned on and in the following years will be taking measurements of particle reactions which have never been studied before. The idea is that by colliding particles with greater and greater energies, we can view the workings of the universe in evere greater detail. The current model of particle physics is known as The Standard Model and is itself astounding. For the past 30 or so years, we have been testing its predictions of how three of the four forces of nature (The electromagnetic force, the weak force and the strong force) affect the matter particles that make up the universe we see around us (plus other exotic particles which are not present at low energies). The astounding thing is that so far it has given correct predicictions for every test we've been able to thow at it. Even though it has given correct predictions, we know that it can't be the final theory of everything. This is partly to do with the particle which gives mass to all of the particles in the universe: The Higgs boson. This particle has never been seen but its existence was predicted in the 1960s. The problem is that when the quantum properties of the standard model are studied, the mass of the Higgs boson is found to be immense (in fact in physics speak its mass is said to be divergent and is related to energy scales far higher than we are ever likely to be able to probe). Its mass is many, many orders of magnitude higher than any of the other particles in the standard model and this problem is known as the hierarchy problem. I'm fudging and glossing over the details a lot but just want to get the idea across that the theory gives some pretty strange predictions....unless...some mechanism is introduced which can stabilise the mass of this particle.

I'll get onto this mechanism shortly but the Higgs boson is the first thing that people hope to see when they switch on the LHC (the particle accelerator out at Cern in Geneva) in 2007. Incidentally the LHC is HUGE. The accelerator is a machine with a circumfrence of 27km. It will accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light and will have a power consumption of 120,000,000 Watts. The largest detector in which the particles will collide and the interactions studied is the most complicated machine ever built. It is a piece of electronics, phototubes, complex materials and magnets the size of a five story building:I worked on this detector for a while at Oxford university and it's also one of the biggest political hot potatos physics has ever seen!

Anyway, there are a few contenders for how the mass of the Higgs boson may be stabilised but the main contender is Supersymmetry. This is a symmetry relating particles with different spin. Symmetries are one of the most important concepts in particle physics. All of the forces of nature are understood in terms of an area of mathematics known as group theory which is related to the study of these symmetries. For a good overview of symmetries, John Baez website is worth a look.

The main property of supersymmetry which is relevant for the LHC is that it predicts a large number of extra particles. The point about all of this is that the energies which were reached in the previous generations of particle accelerators were just below the level at which the Higgs boson and these supersymmetric particles would be seen...we think. It may be that when the LHC is switched on and the data is analysed we don't see any of the expected signals. It may be that we've been going down a blind alley for the past three decades and suddenly we need to rethink our theories completely. Either way it will be a fascinating time because even if supersymmetry is seen, there are an infinite number of possible scenarios which we will need to pin down.

Though the standard model makes predictions for three of the four forces, it is a strongly held belief that really all four forces should be explained by a single, underlying theory. The main contender for this theory is what I base my work on and is known as string theory. I'm not going to go into string theory in any detail now but will say that it is a hugely complicated theory of particles and interactions which we only understand on a rudementary level. Saying that, our understanding is increasing all the time and breakthroughs (however small) are being made frequently. The theory predicts that what we think of as point particles are really tiny oscillating pieces of string. The theory allows the unification of gravity and the other three forces in a very natural and elegant way though for the theory to be mathematically consistent it must be formulated in ten dimensions, where six of them are curled up into some complicated structure.
There is a chance that if the universe is set up in a particular way (and this is quite a generic formulation) we may be able to detect these extra dimensions at the LHC. When I say detect, this actually comes down to studying the energy contect of the particles going into and coming out of the particle collisions. The hope is that in these collisions, the force carrying particle of gravity, the graviton, will be produced in vast numbers. These carry very little energy themselves but because so many will be produced, they may give observable effects. The idea is that these gravitons may be able to escape into the extra dimensions and the total incoming and outgoing energy of the particle collision will not be the same. Energy will appear to have been lost in the reaction, signalling possible extra dimensions. There's a lot more to it than this obviously but this is the basic idea.
Anyway, the talk in Southampton on Thursday went through some of these scenarios in more detail and touched on some alternative theories such as technicolour and some of the various brane constructions which come about through string theory. Branes are like multidimensional sheets living in the ten dimensions of string theory and strings can become trapped on these branes. It is believed that we may live on a four-dimensional brane living in the ten-dimensional `bulk`.

Anyway, I've waffled on enough. I shall stop for now but it was nice to go to a seminar even if it was a basic revue seminar, it's nice to get the brain in gear again.

After all that physics talk I wanted to mention a book I've been reading recently. This is called Culture Shock: China, which is surprising me already by going against many of my preconceptions of the current and past Chinese culture. This may be partly a backlash on the author's part in reaction to the anti-Chinese sentiments often voiced by the West in relation to the political system, however it's an interesting insight into some of the propaganda that we may have been fed over the last ten years. For instance, the idea that one cannot disagree with government policy or even individuals in power is a false one. What is true however is that you cannot argue about the ultimate power of the party. This is a subtle but important distinction though how true it is, I guess I will find out when I'm there (not that I'm planning to push it). Religious expression is also allowed, again so long as it doesn't go against the rule of the party. As far as I can tell, this is no different from most other countries in the world. This may be a biased and naive view of the situation but it will be interesting to find out.

It was great to meet up with a good friend, Ben, yesterday evening. Ben spent a few weeks in China and had a lot of very useful tips for me. From what he says, it's going to be a crazy two years but should be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Todays been very tiring but definitely satisfying to have got a lot done. Other than being mucked around by coaches and doctors it's all been pretty good.

I wanted to go to London one last time before heading off, so that I could see my uncle, aunt and cousins and to go and see some galleries. I went up on the coach with my mum and headed to the National Portrait Gallery to meet my mother's friend from school, Anne. On the way we passed the new sculpture in Trafalgar square which, though we didn't get that close, is pretty startling from a distance.

We headed to see the self-portrait exhibition which has almost 600 years of self-portraits from around 60 artists. These range from Van-Eyck through Rembrandt upto Hopper and BaconThere are a few excellent pieces but it's not nearly as startling as the BP Portrait exhibition last month in which there were a few really spectacular paintings. I was quite taken with Marlene Dumas who I had never seen before. Again, this isn't the one from the exhibition but is in a similar style.
After lunch (which is getting easier every day) at the NPG, we headed to Somerset House where there was a great exhibition of Andre Derain's (a fauvist) London paintings. Only a few of these but they were an interesting bunch. Unfortunately I only had a few minutes but had a look around and found some superb sculptures of Rodin, Degas and Renoir a really interesting Barbara Hepworth (not the one shown here but a similar idea, I'll change it if I find the right one) and some Kandinskys that I'd never seen.

After all this I met up with my uncle, aunt and two cousins and their grandparents and went for a nice meal and chat before heading to Covent Garden (via a shop where my uncle bought me some hyperdermic needles in case I end up in a backwater in China and need a jab!).
Anyway, great to see them all and am hoping to see at least Phill out in China and if possible Carol and the girls.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I'm currently testing the radioblogging idea so bear with me. The blog may get a little distorted for a while...

So a little code butchering aside, I've now got radioblogger onto the blog. I am however linking to another persons music page as I have to host the mp3s myself. I'll now try and find a way that I can upload my own audio files.

Feeling seriously relieved today. Had a bit of a scare yesterday with the teeth and thought that I may have to have some more serious surgery. This kept me up most of the night worrying how I was going to fit in all the last minute things I need to do before heading off.

Again, this is not for the squeemish, no, really:

During the tooth extraction, at one point I heard a loud crack but figured this was just par for the course and didn't mention it. Since last monday talking and eating have been pretty painful and I went back to the dentist yesterday to see if it should still be this bad. He didn't seem too worried so said that I should just come back on Friday to have the stitches out. However, getting home yesterday evening I could barely eat anything so felt at the back of my mouth and what should I find but a piece of bone sticking out of the inside of my jaw...nice! This sharp little nugget had been pointing out and sticking into my tongue every time I moved it. Anyway, went back to the dentists again today and he cut the bit of bone out. Much relieved now and in a lot less pain. I think the bone had just splintered when he was drilling and pierced the skin. What fun. This explains why talking on Saturday was far from easy. Anyway, all good now, can get back to admin tasks.

Have now set up a webcam and purchased all the Skype hardware so I'm ready to chat from Beijing.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A quick question to anybody who knows about these things. Steve suggested that it may be possible to do a ten minute podcast each week of life in China (is this because my friends don't want to read the waffle I write? probably). Anyway, this seems like an interesting idea. I've had a look around and it is possible to do on blogspot but only using something called audioblogger. To use this however, it is necessary to have a US phone number. If anyone knows any way around this, please either e-mail me or make a comment.

I've now set up skype so should be able to chat to anyone else who has it. Tomorrow I've got to buy a webcam so again, if anyone knows of a good, cheap webcam, please advise me as I'm going into this one in the dark.

So I have the first few pictures from Saturday night, hopefully more to follow but this will do for a start (these ones are from Kim, may thanks).

Nota and Martijn:

Alex and Faye:

Kim and Kate:

Kate, myself and Kim. Kate appeared to find it physically impossible to keep her eyes open by this point so some cunning doctoring has gone on here. Steve no doubt will be impressed with my computer graphics prowess (Steve incidentally I hope you're feeling much better). I appear to be a pleasant shade of grey, which is pretty much how I was feeling by this point:

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Well, a fantastic, though for me somewhat blurred day yesterday. It was great to see lots of friends, in a lot of cases for the final time before I head off. After much tea, cake, flapjacks and entertainment from scurrilous friends we headed off to Freud's. This is one of the most interesting venues in Oxford. It's a converted church, they serve decent food, good cocktails (mohitos aside) and has a great atmosphere. On a Sunday afternoon, it's a great place to come for a decent coffee and a good quiet chat or just to read the paper. They have salsa lessons during the week and often great bands. Though I petered out by a little after midnight the music was passable but it's often great.

It was also Ben's birthday (a very happy birthday and good luck for his exams on Monday) and there were a lot of others who came along after the meal, a few of whom I hadn't seen since school (seven years and counting). With the Beijing trip becoming seriously imminent, it was good to speak to Jim and Christian who both cycled there from Streatley (near Reading) and subsequently cycled across North America. UK-China took five and a half months and they got in some pretty tight scrapes including several occasions where Jim should have bitten the dust. Their website is well worth a look. Jim is a legend in the history of Abingdon school with the most outrageous end-of-school stunt of all time.

I was also pleased to be able to show Tim that I really had completed his challenge of getting the word 'titivate' into my thesis. I figured there's no point in doing these things by halves so the word is on page two, a page with only 14 other words. Anyway thanks to this his wothy marathon charity is a little better off. All the best for the New York marathon which Tim leaves for on the 3rd of November.

Anyway, I don't have any photos from last night so I'd really like it if people could send me some that I can load onto this page.

All in all a great night though I have lost my voice entirely today, it's well worth it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Since the last post on Hurricane Wilma, I was sent an interesting article taken from the Economist on the link between global warming and hurricane strength and frequency. The oft quoted link is between rising sea water temperatures and hurricane frequency. The reason being that ocean surface temperatures have to be above 26 degrees for hurricanes to form. However, analysing the surface temperature around the world and the hurricane frequency increases it turns out the while surface temperatures in the six ocean basins have increased since the 1970s, only in the North Atlantic did both the number and length of hurricanes increase. Anyway, another piece of interesting but inconclusive evidence.

Reading a little more about Wilma, I found that though this is the strongest Hurricane ever recorded, it only comes number ten in the strongest ever tropical cyclones, the other nine being typhoons (tropical cyclones which form in the northwest Pacific Ocean, west of the dateline). The strongest ever typhoon recorded puts Wilma in the shade. This was denoted a 'super typhoon' and was called Tip. It's winds went over 300 km/h and as an illustration of its scale, below indicates how large it was compared to North America. Tracy was the smallest ever storm to get to tropical cyclone status.

Apart from reading more about tropical cyclones, I've been continuing to feel sorry for myself as I'm still full of cold. Horrible tasting Chinese remedies seem to be working, though I've become somewhat wary of the one that I was taking for some time (cordyceps sinensis or caterpillar fungus).

It's the supplement which is credited with giving the Chinese competitors some of their best results ever at the Sydney olympics. However, the medicine comes from a fungus that grows on a caterpillar which is found only in certain mountainous regions in Tibet. Since its popularity has soared, these mountainous regions have been overrun by businesses trying to jump on the bandwagon and the countryside is being devastated. There are other ways of making the drug including culturing it artificially, however, the most popular form still comes direct from the original source. As far as I know, full scale clinical trials have not been performed yet but it'll be interesting to see where all the hype goes over the next few years. (there is this Chinese study but I don't know how respected it is).

Last but by no means least....I've recently been in contact with a Japanese guy who I was room sharing with in Boulder at the conference this summer. He's one of the hardest working people I've ever met and is working on some really interesting things to do with studying phase transitions in quantum field theories using the gauge-gravity duality...great stuff. Anyway, he's also a very good photographer, I've added a link to his site on the left (Daisuke Yomada) where he has some of the photos he took while driving the huge distance between Washington and Colorado. Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Well I was supposed to be in Swansea at the moment but the tooth removal has taken a lot more out of me than I'd expected and I'm sitting here with a fever still not feeling much better. Just hope I'll be better by the weekend. Anyway, all this sitting around means I'm keeping a pretty good eye on the news.

Not only has the record just been equalled for the most hurricanes in a single season but the latest, hurricane Wilma, has just become the strongest hurricane ever recorded. This is all looking pretty suspicious so we'll see if Bush sits up and listens. As far as I can tell it's pretty difficult to make a direct link between hurricane activity and global warming. Quote: "Based on recent research, the consensus view is that we don't expect global warming to make a difference to the frequency of hurricanes,"(Julian Heming, from the UK Meteorological Office). This quote however was before both records for frequency and strength were broken in the space of two days. Though I can follow the various arguments, I don't know enough about meteorology to be swayed by any one argument as there appear to be so many contradictory opinions from eminent scientists.

The other thing I've been reading about has been from John Baez who is a mathematical physicist from California. He works on loop quantum gravity, the main alternative to string theory as a 'theory of everything'. Though loop quantum gravity is, perhaps, even less well understood than string theory, as far as I can tell, its main benefit is that it's what is known as a 'background free theory'. This means that you don't formulate the theory in a set space-time background but the background comes out of the theory itself. This is in contrast to string theory where the ten-dimensional space time is set and perturbations around this are studied.

Anyway, John Baez has an item called 'this weeks finds in mathematical physics' where he generally discusses conferences he's attended but also talks about more general scientific and technological ideas. This week he's talking about the Technological Singularity which I hadn't come across before. It sounds a bit sci-fi but technology experts seem to treat it as a real possibility. The idea is that the rate of technology is accelerating at such a rate that, at some point in the next couple of hundred years, once a machine that is more intelligent than man is created, technology will exceed human comprehension and man will be left behind. A bit Terminator perhaps. That's not a great explanation and I'm yet to understand it fully but it's something worth thinking about. I'm slightly wary as the Wikipedia article includes comments about the grey goo scenario which I've never been terribly impressed with. Anyway, what is interesting is looking at the canonical milestones in the history of the Earth. Of course this is down to the points chosen and I'm sure one could create just about any graph you wanted but the logarithmic plot is interesting none the less.

After all that waffle I thought I'd upload another picture from Boulder Colorado. This was taken on the way up to Bear Peak which is at around 7000 ft, a pretty decent climb. Anyway, I was particularly pleased with how this one came out:

A short but important P.S. I've been reliably informed that the sitetracker I've set up from this site inundates the viewer with cookies. I'd be interested in people's opinions on the privacy and intrusiveness of this. If enough people (which may not be many) don't like it, I will remove the site meter which allows me to see how many people from around the world view the blog. Just for my own, egotistical interest.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Not for the squeemish:
Lying here recuperating from the teeth extraction which was more traumatic than expected. Last time was fine and so I went in not feeling too nervous. Injections are not pleasant but bareable and the first tooth popped out in about ten minutes. The second one took an hour and a quarter of full on dentist vs. jaw action. This included the use of many drills (and the taste of burning tooth), several scalpels, many other tools that I don't know the names of, and a large pair of pliers. Anyway, after much struggling and me accidentally swallowing a small swab, the bugger shifted along with a bit of bone! So I'm now lying back, not allowed to eat solids until Thursday feeling somewhat sorry for myself.
So apart from that, there's now a great deal of organising to be done. Thanks to, I presume Mr Inman, I've downloaded i-tunes and a great teach yourself mandarin podcast. I've only done the first couple of lessons but they seem very useful and repetitive, which is great. All being well, I'm off to Swansea tomorrow to see my aunt, uncle and cousins which should be great. I was hoping to spend today with them as well but due to the overly exhausting tooth extraction, this didn't work out. Anyway, hopefully I should have photos from Swansea soon.

The other interesting thing today was watching channel four this morning where there was a documentary about Truck records started largely by PC, from my year at Abingdon. PC featured heavily and it was an interesting look into the goings on of the company. The Truck festival has been getting consistently rave reviews and is often listed in top five summer festivals to go to. I have, and I admit this with much guilt, never made it to a Truck festival as I've been doing something else every summer since it started. I will make it someday I promise (just not for another two years).

An amusing piece of news this morning was that the grand opening of the Spinakker tower in Portsmouth, six years late and 19 million over budget started out in true style when a council boss got stuck in the lift when it jammed 33ft off the ground. Well it's publicity if nothing else.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Having not paid much attention to it other than the rising costs, I had somewhat ignored the Scottish parliament building. However, following the announcement of the Stirling prize for architecture, I had a look at pictures and plans of it and, half a billion or not, I'm really impressed. The idea is that it is a transition between the architecture of the buildings of Edinburgh and the countryside of Scotland and I think it does this very effectively. It's a huge mix of styles from parts which look a little like Hunndertwasser to Gaudiesque curves and blocks which are rather like some of the Liebeskind designs. Anyway, here are a few photos of the interior and exterior. Make of it what you will.

Apart from this, I've finished Sweet Thursday which is just as good if not better than Cannery Row. It looks in detail at how some of the characters from Cannery Row have been changed by the war, specifically the Doc. The Doc is also the central character in the first book though both are narrated more through the characters of the Palace Flophouse. Some very bleak parts to it and I shan't give away the ending but another excellent Steinbeck.

Ahead of me is a hugely hectic week which begins tomorrow with the removal of my remaining two wisdom teeth plus an attempt to get travel insurance for two years which will not cost me my entire salary. Fun fun fun.

What everybody appears to have failed to mention to me is that Chinese is utterly, irreconcilably impossible. Before starting, I was informed that the word ma, can be pronounced in five different ways and have five different meanings. This is tough but not impossible. I now find that this is only the tip of the iceberg. It has five meanings that are used in everyday sentences. Looking up the word shi for instance, which means to be, it turns out that this has a few other meanings as well. These are:
/to lose/to miss/to fail/corpse/a division (milit.)/teacher/master/expert/model/distribute (alms)/to do/to execute/to carry out/wet/moist/lion/Xanthium strumarium/Achillea sibirica/louse/poem/poetry/verse/place name/Seriola qinqueradiata/yellow tail/turtle-dove/tenth (used in fractions)/ten/hen roost/really/solid/real/true/honest/pick up/ten (fraud-proof)/O'clock/time/when/hour/season/period/clear water/pure/rock/stone shrine/Peuceclanum gravelens/to plant/eat up slowly/eclipse/to know/knowledge/animal feed/eat/food/shad/Ilisha elongata/long-tailed marmot/to make/to cause/to enable/to use/to employ/messenger/hostory/begin/stool/feces/arrow/dart/hog/swine/
hasten/proceed to/sail a vessel/life/age/generation/era/world/lifetime/matter/thing/item/work/
affair/an official/attend to/conditions/influence/tendency/addicted to/fond of/devour/to bite/scholar/warrior/knight/angry/room/market/city/type/form/pattern/
style/murder a superior/rely upon/door pivot/wipe/is/are/am/yes/to be/persimmon/tree/clan name/maiden name/bank/shore/river/to show/reveal/divine by stalk/to lick/lap/to sting/raincoat/to look at/to regard/to inspect/to test/to try/experiment/examination/test/oath/vow/to swear/to pledge/examine/judge/confer such title/posthumous title/borrow/buy on credit/rent out/crossbar in carriage front/depart/die/to fit/to suit/explain/to release/cerium/adorn/ornaments!!!!

Don't worry though, it all becomes clear when the word is put in context! Two weeks to go, no problem.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Lazy weekend allows for a stroll in the Summertown library sculpture garden. This was set up and designed by my mother and currently there is an exhibition of work by Rebbeca Buck, now living in Wales but who has been a friend of the family for a few years. Anyway, a few photos from the garden along with my father and godfather.

My good friend Nota gave me a great present of albums of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong recorded in Paris which are now allowing for a chilled afternoon. I lived with Nota in my first year in Southampton and her cooking from Greece along with Sylvia's Chinese dishes and my trial and error gastronomic experiments made for a lot of really enjoyable evenings in Glen Eyre.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Back home in Oxford after a pretty crazy week. Sitting here stuffed to the gills with trifle, champagne and wine and feeling rather smug at the same time. So the big news this week is that after much stress, anxiety and sweaty palms, I took my viva on Thursday and with immediate effect was made a doctor. I've been waiting many years to call myself officially Dr Shock but at last I can. The viva was at 2.00 but the time prior to the interview felt like the clock had stopped. The viva itself was two and a half hours which is pretty normal and it may be that I've blocked out how terrifying it was but my memories now are that it was actually quite an enjoyable experience. Immediately afterwards, I went to the student bar with my supervisor and a few others from the department and was bought a celebratory beer which tasted better than any beer I've had for many many months. My supervisor Nick gave me a great book: 'On the Shoulders of Giants' which is a book of the collected works of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, edited by Stephen Hawking which I thoroughly look forward to reading. After a decent Indian meal we headed to the Orange Rooms which has become my local in Southampton. A great group of people out, one or two beers and dancing later on to Dexter from the Avalanches. Photos from the night are hopefully to follow but for now, somebody else's photo of Dexter will have to do. A great mix of music from hip-hop to salsa and reggae to klesma and pop! Superb evening.

After all this, I've spent the day doing the minor corrections to my thesis, printing it out and attempting to get it bound which is turning out to be somewhat harder than expected but I shan't bore you with the details. So sitting here now, nicely soused with my godfather Mike. All good!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Having spent a couple of weeks at home going stir crazy, I'm finally back in the office in Southampton. Though noisier and with more distractions, I'm finally getting round to the work that I should have been doing over the last week. Though now without my room, it's also good to be back at my old house on Highfield lane with Martijn and Alex.

Everyone is telling me not to worry about the viva though the point of information today that it will be two to two and half hours of grilling didn't help my anxieties very much. At least most of my gaps in understanding seem to be closing and hopefully there shouldn't be too many major holes by Thursday.

Space for another photo and as I'm back at Highfield lane, this is at least slightly relevent. I haven't mentioned this one to the landlord but a little experiment into the difference between flambeing with regular rum bought in England and 80% proof rum bought in Jamaica soon became apparent when cooking pancakes. Eyebrows are still intact, just.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

I appear to have got myself into a bit of a vicious circle. Having surprised myself at the lack of stress of writing a thesis, I seem to have saved up most of that stress for the viva. This along with several other current concerns including the fact that I still have to learn Mandarin, I have to have two of my wisdom teeth out in a week, I've still got lots of admin to do for China, many people to seen around the country, insurance to organise, a haullage company to contact....etc. means that I'm currently a bit stressed. I do anxious quite well a lot of the time but it's rare that I genuinly feel stressed. This means I'm not sleeping well at the moment and so I'm waking up in a foul temper, then not actually getting anything done during the day. My success today, other than shredding paper, has been my second Mandarin lesson, it's difficult to know how much is going in at the moment without frequent structured practice but I guess I'll find out in three weeks. Three weeks!

The other positive thing at the moment has been that in putting off everything that I need to do, I finished Candide by Voltaire. It's an interesting little book about the ultimate optimist's misadventures and calamities as he searches for his first and only love Conégonde. Candide is Quixotic in his activities though, in contrast to Don Quixote, Candide's love is reciprocated (In Don Quixote, Dulcinea finds her stalker somewhat bemusing). The book is about Candide's reaction to suffering and in contrast to Metamorphosis which is about external reaction to other's suffering, Candide, though dark in many places, treats the subject more light-heartedly. The other positive side is that whereas Don Quixote, which I've yet to finish as everytime I restart I get exasperated by his stupidity, is 1000 pages long, this is almost a tenth the size and he only makes each mistake once (or sometimes twice) in contrast to DQ's constant misapprehensions. I may finish it one day!

I've now started Sweet Thursday by Steinbeck which is the sequel to Cannery Row. Only a couple of chapters in but I'm hooked already. Cannery Row is probably Steinbeck's greatest comedies and though also containing tragedy ends up as an uplifting story. Anyway, more to come on this.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I found out a rather disturbing piece of news yesterday that in January both blogspot and google were completely banned from China. China has a giant fire-wall that is goverment controlled and many sites are highly restricted. It seems that after much protesting, google and blogspot were reinstated though google is somewhat restricted in its search capabilities! I may have to take off this piece of information before I go out there as I don't want to get in trouble with the authorities just yet. I'm sure this will be one of many culture shocks I'll be faced with when I'm there. Luckily Joanna (my sister) has given me a book for my birthday called 'Culture Shock' which is all about dealing with modern life in China, including much of the strange ettiquette that I will have to get used to.

I finally managed to track down a Chinese teacher and had a lesson this evening. She hasn't taught before but the fact that she speaks Mandaring is good enough for me. She's from Shanghai and though she says that her accent is the same as a Beijing accent, I'm not convinced. The use of something called the retroflexive 'r' seems to range from a western 'er' sound in Beijing to something closer to 'je' in Shanghai. Anyway, I'm sure I'll learn a lot but have to put in a major effort to get comfortable with it in the next three weeks!

Anyway, another highly succesful day of procrastination comes to an end. Really must work for the viva tomorrow. For now, another picture to contrast the horribly grey day that's added to my tedium (other than meeting up with Stephen, a friend from Bristol whome I haven't seen for 18 months). This was last summer on Kim's house boat in Southampton. A perfect summer day of relaxing.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Other than tedious admin tasks for China (0f which there are many), today has been mostly spent getting myself into knots in preparation for my viva. A few things which I thought I understood in perfect detail have just dissolved before my eyes in chaos and confusion and the things that I was hoping to get a handle on this week which I knew I didn't understand seem to be running away from me, never to be comprehended. I would be panicking if I hadn't fallen into a complete state of lethargy. Unfortuntely this work-phobia has become so great that I may just tidy the house in order to put of the inevitable. Anyway for now, I'll put on another photo which was the view from my hotel room in Denver. I spent June in Bounder Colorado on a summer school for postgrad string theorists which was an amazing month. Learnt a great deal, met a lot of excellent people, many of whom I'm still in contact with, ate and drank a lot, and came back completed exhausted but enthused. Having travelled across the pond, I took advantage and had a couple of days staying in Denver which I would only recommend doing if you're within a couple of hours drive. They're building a new wing to the Denver museum of art, designed by Daniel Libeskind which is going to be stunning but it will be a little while yet until it's complete. This is what it will look like:

Anyway, from the hotel room as well as seeing some great storms over the foothills of the Rocky mountains, there were some magnificent sunsets. I never managed to get a photo of the lightning but I did get this photo of a sunset with the Rockies in the distance:

Anyway, there may be more Bounder photos to come at some stage. Brian Powell has a lot of good photos on his webpage, the link to which is on the right. house duties.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I've just finished 'Immortality' by Milan Kundera. It's a truly fantastic book. It's about many things from how we attempt to obtain immortality through death and what makes us who we are to the intimacies and alienation of sexual and platonic relationships. He writes his stories with characters that mirror facets of one another so that the four or five separate stories that run through the book seem to match over one another. Often, characters from one part of the novel do intertwine with a story from another and in the end you realise that all of the characters, however many years apart are all somehow linked, even if just by their personalities. There are some incredible passages in the book, for example a stunning analysis of a seemingly simple poem by Goethe. Every page appears to have a new idea or way of seeing something we all know in an intriguing and surprising way and though his writing is quite obviously pretentious, I found myself smiling and frowning alternately throughout. I'll be thinking about this one for some time.

Apart from reading, I'm going through my thesis to work out what I do and don't understand. I'm pleased to say that there is more in the former category though there is still a lot that I need to go through. There are many questions that I still have unanswered. I'm also attempting a calculation about the return of a parity doubled spectrum in the limit of a highly excited quark bilinear bound state. At this stage, I'm not convinced that the calculations that have been performed till now are actually quite right but maybe I'm just not seeing it. A busy week ahead and I still need to get around to sorting out learning Mandarin.