Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spanish in perspective and Stephen Hawking in Santiago de Compostela

My schedule is again back to something approximating sanity, with the Spanish course having finished today. We managed to fit a three month course into two and a half weeks of lessons. During this time I felt frustrated at the lack of practice I was getting while in the classroom, but as it comes to an end I see that I have actually got something valuable out of these three weeks.

We 'learned' a great deal of grammar in the class, a lot of structures and syntactical constructions. My frustration came about because it was just too much and I can't don't remember to use very much of this in my conversation. However, what I have gained is a set of points which I can look out for in other people's conversations and gradually, through immersion can start to put in my own speech. It's going to take time and effort on my part, but I think this awareness of what to look for in conversation is key. I now have some ideas for exercises that I can try out with the television, a rich resource which I rarely use. I'm going to attempt to watch the TV for around 20 minutes a day and, with paper and pen in front of me, look out for specific constructions, jotting them down when I hear them. This will give me a good familiarity with them and also should help me understand the frequency with which they are used in everyday life. Anyway, I'll let you know how that goes.

In other news...Stephen Hawking is in town and this is huge. It's especially important for a relatively small city which has gone crazy over his visit. Saturday will be the big day, but he has so far taken part in many events, including the last 150 or so meters of the Camino, a major press conference, and a talk in our department on inflation in the early universe.

The talk (based on this paper with Hartle and Hertog) focused on the reason that we started at the top of a potential, which has been conjectured to give rise to slow roll inflation, and not in a minimum. The claim is that using the appropriate weighting for calculating the probability of starting at a maximum, using the Hartle-Hawking wavefunction of the universe, you are led to a high probability for such a 'boundary condition'.

Anyway, the talk was just 20 minutes and the room was absolutely rammed. I've seen Hawking give a couple of talks now, and the media circus which follows him around is fairly crazy. He seems to have pretty good control over what he will and won't allow, and when enough was enough, with the cameras and film crews, he asked them to leave at which point they shut up shop. The audience was warned that it was indeed going to be a technical talk but almost none of the members (mostly made up of non-physicists) budged, leaving many of those who were actually there to hear what he had to say, without a seat. Still, it was an interesting talk, on a subject I haven't studied myself, but was pretty understandable in the short seminar.

For a video of some of the things he's been up to here in Santiago, I've embedded this short video:

On a Hawking related note, I'll also add this video of the chronophage, which has recently been inaugurated in Corpus Cristi, in Cambridge, and is a wonderful time keeping device/steam punk engineering


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