Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Playing Catch-Up

At the time of writing the following post I was content to have finally, after two weeks, received my computer back with a shiny new hard drive and most of my photos. This morning as it threw another wobbly I took it to the computer guy who showed me the correct way to fix this perennial problem of ACER laptops. Unfortunately half way through this demonstration the computer decided to fry the hard disk completely, leaving me with no computer at all. Come tomorrow, ACER will pick it up, spend two weeks mucking about with it, send it back to my parent's house who will then send it on to me in Beijing. All in all this means a good few weeks with no computer which is rather detrimental to most of my work. So, this is where I stand now, typing on my folk's computer as I try and work out what I have and haven't managed to salvage from the wreckage.

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It's been a very busy couple of weeks though in general extremely enjoyable. Now, drawing to the end of my stay back home I have a lot of odds and ends to get finished before flying back. Insurance to buy tomorrow which will cost me a couple of months wages so it's pretty vital that I work out just how important this is.

All told I'm actually feeling pretty stressed about the number of things that I have to do when I get back, but the majority of them should at least be useful experiences. The day after arriving back I'll be giving a 20 minute talk to 150 PhD students and postdocs about my research and, as far as I know, most of them will not have come across the AdS/CFT correspondence. Another useful challenge however and another thing to add to the CV.

Even away from the computer I've had a chance to chat physics with a good variety of people. Down in Southampton, along with seeing friends and going back to the local haunts I had my graduation ceremony and spoke with Nick, my former supervisor about some sensible directions to take things. Graduation was infernal, with temperatures well above 30 degrees, heavy gowns over suits and then being packed into the theatre with less space than airplane seats made me rather worried about fainting onto the chancellor. Blood stayed in the right places and I took my part in the strange ceremony.

Back in Oxford I chatted to Steven Clarke, a good friend who studied in Bristol with me and who's doing some great work simulating optical lattices. This work goes back to a paper of Feynman who noticed that one could use a quantum computer to simulate another quantum system (as opposed to solving mathematical problems of factorisation and data retrieval). At the moment a one dimensional optical lattice can be set up with a simple Hamiltonian using lasers, and phase transitions of various statistical mechanical systems can be studied in detail without actually having to muck around with liquid helium etc. Steven's job is to work out, on a computer, exactly what the experimenters should see when they study these lattices. There's a great deal to be learned from such systems and it looks like the experimenters and theorists are working well together on this particular topic. If I can persuade him I'll ask Steven to write something both more accurate and eloquent about his current research.


From Oxford back to Leicestershire to see my godparents to spend a fine day in the countryside and relaxing in their garden, surrounded by butterflies and carnivorous plants. Good food, good walks and good chat were provided in spades and we all left gastronomically and mentally satisfied.

Via Oxford I headed London way to meet up with some of my best friends who've just bought a house in Wimbledon. I'd been promised a trip to an interesting restaurant and was not disappointed. One of the foods which I miss most in Beijing is a good steak and so heading to the Gaucho Grill, off Piccadilly Circus, couldn't have been better. The greatest steak I've ever had, straight from Argentina, cooked to perfection with a porcini and truffle sauce, served with classic Argentinean side dishes and washed down with a fine Malbec. Anyone who likes their steak and is in the area should definitely check this place out.

I have many photos of antics on Wimbledon common and the goings on in Leicestershire but these will have to wait for now.

A fun night out at some clubs in Soho which provided me with the first pangs of culture shock. Coming from the Korean and Chinese clubs in Beijing straight into the London clubs where the suits are stumbling after the ladies who themselves are tottering around in their high heels is a very strange and somewhat unsavoury sight. Somehow in Beijing people seem to be out to have a good time on the dance floor with no ulterior motive. I can't quite put my finger on it now, several days after the event, but it was a rather bemusing sight for me.

After a big night out we took it very easy the next day, playing frisbee in the park and heading back for a home cooked meal. Later on James from TASI came along and, though we were both pretty tired, it was great to catch up after a year. James has a whole slew of interesting projects on and has suggested that some of my ideas may be worth putting to those at Queen Mary, where he's finishing his PhD.

London to Cambridge to see another good friend and spend another couple of relaxed days sitting in cafes and watching movies before heading back to London to go to a some galleries.

Unfortunately due to various pressures and tiredness beginning to get to me, the Kandinsky didn't have quite as much impact on me as I would have liked. There are a couple of very powerful pieces, including The Deluge (or perhaps another, the name escapes me now) which is strikingly similar in tone to Guernica. The Howard Hodgkin at the Tate Britain was excellent however and, if you haven't seen his work before I would highly recommend seeing one of Britain's greatest living painters. Unfortunately onscreen and in books the paintings lose a great deal, so if it appeals at all it's worth a look.

Image removed but can be found at this site.

Next door is an atmospheric Chris Ofili work.

Unfortunately one of my favourite pieces of sculpture, Eve by Thomas Brock, is currently on loan to the V&A so wasn't in it's usual striking position. When lit properly, this late nineteenth century piece can be absolutely astounding and the first time I saw it I was mesmerised by the warmth and light given off by the skin

From the Tate Modern via my Grandmother in North London and then home to finally rest up for a couple of days before heading back to Beijing (via Munich).

So, it's been fun but pretty tiring and I'm not particularly looking forward to this rather ambiguously aimed talk I will be giving almost as soon as I touch down. Anyway, another full day tomorrow in England to pack up and head back. It looks like this will be the only time I can came home in the two years out in China so I have around another 15 months back in Beijing. Let's see what delights are in store for the next year and a bit...

3 comments:

Mr. Minto said...

Glad you enjoyed your trip to London Village. Excellent to see you Biscuit - let's see if I can't get myself to Beijing for NYE.

Benjamin said...

What a nightmare with the computer! Fascinating tour around parts of the British Isles. Where did you hang out in Cambridge?

I liked this post. I know what you mean about drunken suitors. I was amazed at how rough and hard lots of young men were acting through the midlands and south last week. Anyway, be well x

Jonathan Shock said...

Mr M, always a pleasure. See you in a few months time.

Hi Ben, such is life re. the computer and lesson learnt.

In Cambridge I have a good friend about two minutes from the river, off Chesterton road if you know the area. It's next to either Jesus Green, or similar and it's a lovely area. I did have photos from that weekend but they really are lost for good.

Oddly I didn't think that the drunken blokes came over as rough or hard, just trying too hard. It was all just so obvious what they were after and the girls were lapping it up.

All the best,

J