Friday, August 25, 2006

All Things Unrelated

I hinted that I would talk about some physics a few days ago but haven't been able to as I've been busy doing it for myself. I've managed to fashion a computer system which works and am now busy with the baryon work I started with my Japanese collaborator some time ago. I'm also now supervising another student which looks like it should be both enjoyable and productive.

However there are a few things to mention re. physics over the last few days.

On Wednesday we were lucky to have a talk from Robert Griffiths from Carnegie Mellon university whose talk was entitled 'What is quantum information?'. I was ignorant of many things about Professor Griffiths and this subject but feel like I've glimpsed some insights in the strange world of quantum mechanics having heard about his work.

Griffiths was one of the originators (along with Roland Omnes, Murray Gell-Mann, and James Hartle) of what is known as the consistent histories approach to quantum mechanics, which acts rather like a completion of the Copenhagen interpretation. One of the main problems with the Copenhagen Interpretation is that it describes the collapse of the wave function when a quantum system is measured by a classical system. There are two obvious questions which are raised and never answered by The C.I. The first is 'what is a measurement?' and the second is 'what do you mean by a classical system?'. Griffiths points out that really there are no classical systems, merely macroscopic ones. In the consistent histories approach the idea of decoherence is bought onto more solid foundations by an absence theorem which is related to the flow of information from a quantum system into its quantum (though possibly macroscopic) environment. This idea rings far more true for me as I'd always had a handwavy idea of a conservation of some sort of entanglement as a quantum system was measured, not just the removal of all non-zero elements of the wavefunction in the measured basis. Anyway, the consistent histories approach is something that I'd like to learn more about and from the sounds of the talk there are things which you can say in this interpretation which would be completely taboo in normal textbooks. Phrases like 'performing a measurement on a quantum system to find out what state it was in before the measurement took place' would seem to go against what was taught in the modern university approach. Anyway, clearly there's a lot more I should learn about this and Griffiths has a book online which I shall peruse some time soon.

Yesterday (written a few days ago) we had an interesting talk by a professor from Damascus university on his extension work to KKLT-like approaches. Many people on many string blogs have written much about KKLT but the idea is that by turning on fluxes in string theory via the addition of D-branes, the moduli space of string vacua can be lifted, to remove the continuous possibility of solutions of a given compactification. Chamoun's work is related to turning on charged matter fields on the D-branes which can lift the vacua even without the non-perturbative effects which are needed in the normal KKLT approaches. I'm no expert on this area and in a one hour talk it's difficult to get a real sense of what's going on but it was a nice seminar and another area of string theory which I'm keen to learn more about...I seem to be saying this rather repetitively but, with all subjects the more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn. Though it feels like I'll never 'catch up' I may at least progress.

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This week I've been doing 12-16 hour days in the office in order to catch up with some of the work I haven't been able to do without the computer. I'm getting there but in the time before collapsing completely I've been able to keep up with some reading both scientific and fiction. I've been reading a few books about dynamics, chaos and attractors which lead to a fascinating set of insights about so many aspects of all the sciences. There are many wonderful biological applications to this area of mathematics which I hope to blog about when I've finished the current books.

Last weekend I read Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, which was mysteriously not in the 2005 booker shortlist. This is a post 9/11 novel about the effect that the modern world has on our minds and personal lives. Told from the point of view of a London neurosurgeon it goes into wonderful detail about his work as well as his thought processes as his strange Saturday unfolds. This is a superbly written contemporary novel about life today and though there are some slightly dubious happenings, it doesn't detract from the suspense, shock, and tenderness of the end result.

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Chatting to a friend today who is always worked really hard in the office I asked what they'd done over the weekend. They said that on Sunday they rested and watched about ten hours of television. A lot, but for a lazy day doing nothing after a really tough week I can understand the need to collapse completely. What shocked me were the details as I learned more. It turns out that this is a Korean soap opera (in Mandarin) which has been running for several months. In fact all ten hours had been spent watching just this soap opera. Not only that but it's shown on both Saturday and Sunday (new episodes) running for several months. The idea being that to follow the show you have to watch around 20 hours every weekend for several months. It seems really popular here but completely excessive television viewing for me. A rough estimate means that this is around 250 hours of television, just for one show which I guess is about two years worth of a regular UK soap opera. Still, after a hard week at work people seem to lap this stuff up.

Having said all that I watched a couple of movies last week, one of which was 'Swallowtail Butterfly', the story of Yentowns (the name of the immigrants who come to Tokyo to make money) in Yentown (the name that the immigrants give to the city). It's a huge mixture of styles and emotions but an interesting near-future story about an excluded community with their extreme ups and downs. It gets some rave reviews on imdb and I think it's worth a watch though maybe hard to get hold of in the UK.

'Sympathy for lady vengeance' is one part of Chan Wook Park's vengeance trilogy and though without the energy of 'Oldboy' develops enough of an interesting plot and twisted ending to make it an interesting film. Rather like the three colours trilogy the energy (set by the cold calculation as well as the time of year and the weather) of this film acts as a contrasting atmosphere from the other films in the trilogy. Not for the fainthearted but another fine Korean movie.

Lastly for recent happenings I went to the Confucius temple this Sunday as well as an ancient 'university' where students would learn the classics from experts including the emperor himself. The school is Yuan dynasty and unfortunately under refurbishment for 2008 at the moment, but still the ancient cypress trees and quiet road leading to it make for a pleasant stroll. Photos to follow.

I've finally managed to prepare some of the photos from the amazing plane journey from Munich back to Beijing hope you like them.



Almost certainly Venus rising early in the morning.

I liked the abstract form of the colours slowly coming up over the horizon with the contrast of the plane window and the wing.



just broken the 50 citation mark for my first paper, a pleasing mark to have reached.

Got to go and pick up a new couchsurfer who'll be staying for a couple of days...

5 comments:

Anonymouse said...

I write this bouncing to Reactivate 12.
Physics - boring
Photos - good
Film reviews - as I said, try Azumi
Vegging at the weekend - I am with your friend on that one I'm afraid

That is all for now

Jonathan Shock said...

Hi there, will look out for Azumi.

Yeah, vegging at the weekend I can understand but 20 hours of television every weekend for several months!

Glad you like the photos, I'll try and put the physics in a different font next time to avoid your tedium, but I hope that it pushes somebody somewhere to find out more about these areas.

Chat soon,

JTB,

Anonymouse said...

I didn't realise he'd watched 20 hours a weekend for several months. Thought it was a one off. Bit excessive. It warrants an exclamation mark! Maybe even two!!

Hercule Noirot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jonathan Shock said...

Reposted in more little-cousin-friendly language:

Hercule Noirot said...

Chau Nat San Sheow Ku,

Excellent photos. The first one does look a little bit like an H-bomb though. I'm off on holiday tomorrow, so shalln't be reading for a couple of weeks. But keep up the good work. I'm sure Cherry will come up with some more of his less impressive material to fill these comments pages in my absence.