Monday, August 30, 2010

The low down

The calculation I've been working on all day every day for the last couple of weeks pretty much wound up today and, along with finishing packing up my flat, all boxed up and labeled ready for shipping at the end of September, I feel almost ready to head off again on Thursday for another few weeks of adventures. Upcoming: Wedding in England, two weeks at a program on AdS/CFT and the quark gluon plasma in Vienna, a talk in Southampton, another wedding in England, and then back to Santiago for a week before taking off once more. I'm thoroughly looking forward to spending a couple of weeks grounded in Vienna, the birthplace of my Grandfather, and by the sounds of things, a rather lovely physics institute.

For now a quick picture, again with thanks to Gerardo for the use of his camera, on the evening kayak trip through the lakes of Bariloche in Patagonia. We arrived back after dark, with the stars out and the light from the snow on the mountains marking out way.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Muse on the hill

The sunshine has returned to Santiago but for now I have to make up for lost time and plug on with calculations. I've spent almost all day every day plus a fair few nights in the library this week and the same is true this weekend. Progress is not bad but there are still a few puzzles in the current work which I would like to get sorted today.

Friday night was an exception and I was able to make it to the Muse concert up on Monte do Gozo overlooking the city with Venus setting over the stage and Jupiter rising behind us. I'd been wanting to see Muse for a few years and was one of the lucky few (tens of thousands) to get a ticket. The crowd was huge as this was the main event of the biggest time in the most important year in Santiago's calendar and so the youth of the city had turned out in force. The concert itself was the first big concert I've been to since seeing Sonic Youth in Beijing three years ago and it was worth the wait. If you haven't seen them, Muse is one of the most impressive groups to see live these days and the production was really incredible, just about undifferentiable from the albums.

Anyway, fullsimplify has stopped so I'll just post up another photo from Bariloche I took on the cycle ride around the lake as a passed some workmen burning some recently felled trees, the crepuscular rays streaming off the still-standing trunks and branches:

forest fire

Thursday, August 26, 2010

El Ateneo in Buenos Aires

The chances of me getting more than a couple of minutes at a time to sit down and write a final post for the recent South American adventures is pretty low, so I'll drip feed it here to the blog as and when I have a moment. I'm currently spending my days in the library in Santiago working on a couple of different calculations which never made it quite from mind to hand to paper on the trip and finally it's time to sit down and get them rather more organised.

Anyway, I was lucky enough, after the conference in Buenos Aires, to have a weekend to explore the city and so I headed for the famous Ateneo bookshop, renowned as one of the most beautiful in the world. It is indeed stunning, set in an old theatre, but I have to admit that had it been a second hand bookshop it would have been infinitely more pleasant with the combined aroma of old books and the exuberant architecture. As it was, the old surroundings rather clashed for me with the bright lights and buzz of the commercial enterprise. Still, I browsed for a while before sitting down with some Marquez and a coffee. I rather wish I'd gone for Borges now as I still struggle quite a bit with Marquez's Colombian Spanish and complex phraseology.

El Ateneo
Anyway, worth checking out if you're in the area though I discovered some rather less commercial bookshops with very nice cafes in the Palermo area of the city which I think are even nicer places to spend an afternoon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dawson Bros new clip

For those of you who haven't come across the Inman/Dawson Bros, it's about time you did. This is doubly so for those who saw Avatar and wondered what all the fuss was we know

Tim, Steve and Andy have been working with the likes of Peter Serafinowicz, Derren Brown and Mitchell and Webb over the last few years and got their own half hour comedy show Happy Finish recently. Well worth looking out for and a few of the clips can be found online (including the first in the Internet Hate series (Definitely not safe for work)).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Evening Kayaking in Bariloche

With thanks to Gerardo for the photograph

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Full circle to Buenos Aires

My South America trip has come full circle and I'm back in Buenos Aires, having flown from Santiago de Chile this morning. The last few days have been exciting and surreal and for some reason, still unknown to me, I had my 15 minutes of Chilean fame (ok, mild fame, but I'll take that too). The last two days have seen interviews with three different papers, including one which promises to go into Chile's biggest magazine, El Mercurio, a videoed interview and a couple of rather odd photoshoots. This was all in relation to my talk on Atmospheric Optics which was the first in hopefully a series of talks for the general public in Andres Bello University, one of the top private universities in Chile. The talk itself went pretty well, with plenty of questions once the students got their confidence up and my first experience of being simultaneously translated. I ran through the basics of the talk with the translators beforehand to make sure there wasn't too much jargon, and the only thing they wanted in the end to look at in detail was the quote from Descartes which I include on the section about rainbows:

"A single ray of light has a pathetic repertoire, limited to bending and bouncing (into water, glass or air, and from mirrors). But when rays are put together into a family - sunlight, for example - the possibilities get dramatically richer. This is because a family of rays has the holistic property, not inherent in any individual ray, that it can be focused so as to concentrate on caustic lines and surfaces. Caustics are the brightest places in an optical field. They are the singularities of geometrical optics. The most familiar caustic is the rainbow, a grossly distorted image of the Sun in the form of a giant arc in the skyspace of directions, formed by the angular focusing of sunlight that has been twice refracted and once reflected in raindrops." 

Still the most poetic explanation of a rainbow I've come across.

Anyway, there are still adventures galore to catch up on, but these, as normal will have to wait. For now I thought I'd share some of the photos I've just put up on Flickr from the trip across the Andes by bus from Bariloche to Valdivia, where I gave an enjoyable two hour talk. The seminars in Valdivia are legendary for their questions and the idea, which I highly approve of, is that there should be no time limit, but that the talk goes on until the speaker wants to stop, or the audience truly understands what is being said. The atmosphere is really wonderful and although there are a huge number of questions, none of them is aggressive, and I get the impression that the members of CECS in Valdivia really have a deeper understanding of a larger range of subjects than the average group of theoretical physicists, largely due to this atmosphere of probing questions.

Anyway, the trip to Valdivia was stunning (I was lucky enough to see the Andes from above today as we flew straight over the top with perfect clear skies. I sat in my seat itching to get the camera out but there's no moving around until you're clear of the peaks) and although from the bus I didn't manage to get any good shots of the higher mountains themselves, the snowy scenes were pretty spectacular. This was the lake skirting Bariloche town centre as we pulled out early in the morning, with the morning fog resting on the water

smoke on the water in Bariloche
And the tree lined roads leading up into the Andes:
winter trees in the Andes
Bariloche to Valdivia
Getting to Valdivia I met my Couchsurfing host and we went for a quick stroll down the river where the sealions were basking in the rather unusual sun (Valdivia is reknowned for its constant rain):
So, I leave South America on Sunday, though I'm sure I'll be back. It's been a good trip for giving talks, a fascinating trip for talking with lots of great physicist, an excellent month for thinking of new ideas, but in terms of sitting down and calculating, it's been pretty tough. Moving from place to place isn't conducive, at least for me, to deep concentration and now I'm really looking forward to getting back and having two weeks in Santiago to try and finish some long overdue calculations before heading off again for weddings and a two week stay at a long term program in doesn't stop.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Arcos, Halos y rayos: Un tour por la óptica atmosférica

Things are getting serious! I've just come out of an interview with the university journalists about my talk here for the public on Thursday. Here's the advert which is about to be linked to on Twitter.

22 degree solar halo in Santiago de Compostela

Thursday · 7:00pm - 9:00pm

LocationAv República 399, sala 002

Created By

More Info
Arcos, Halos y rayos: Un tour por la óptica atmosférica.
Dr. Jonathan Shock
Universidad de Santiago de Compostela

El estudio de la óptica atmosférica ha despertado el interés del hombre desde que miramos el cielo para observar nubes, rayos de sol y la interacción de la luz y el agua en todas sus formas. Nos preguntamos cómo estos ingredientes colaboran para desplegar la belleza de los fenómenos que iluminan el cielo. En esta charla... se analizarán varios de estos efectos. Desde los más comunes, como el arcoiris, hasta los más extraños e increíbles halos de hielo y el famoso rayo verde. Acompañaremos la charla con fotografías de expertos y amateurs, para dar así una mirada científica que nos ayude a apreciar mejor estos hermosos fenómenos que nos acompañan a diario, pero que la mayoría de las veces pasan desapercibidos de nuestra mirada.

(en inglés con traducción simultánea)
Cupos limitados (llegue temprano)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Buenos Aires-Bariloche-Valdivia

I'm now in Valdivia, Chile, having skipped out, blog-wise on the last couple of legs of the journey and only given cursory details of any of the last two weeks. I've just arrived at a hotel after staying with a great couchsurfer in a very very cold house last night. I'm slowly defrosting, but was glad to have the chance to spend some time with local residents for an evening at any rate.

Before this I spent three days in Bariloche, though it felt like a good week given the amount that was packed into the short time. Bariloche is where Juan Maldacena spent a few years studying before moving onto Princeton. I was the guest of hist former supervisor Gerdardo Aldazabal who was an excellent host, both in terms of organising my physics activities but also as a keen outdoors activities man who made my stay really special. Given that I was giving talks on the last two days of my stay, having arrived at 2am on Wednesday morning I wanted to take full advantage of the Wednesday to see some of the Patagonian countryside. Staying on the campus of the centro atomico it was a short roll out of bed and into the office to chat with Gerardo about a possible route for the day, and I soon found myself alone with a rented bike, a thin pair of gloves, several layers of clothes plus a good calorie intake from a Welsh breakfast (there are large Welsh communities in Patagonia and a few valleys where Welsh is the predominant language, Welsh teahouses are a common sight) ready to head around the lakes.

The Ciruito Chico takes you around the gently rolling countryside through the occasional steep section or dirt road, around a series of stunning, crystal clear lakes, flanked by snowy mountains and dense forests. I spent the first two hours or so going around taking pictures and stopping occasionally to warm up my icy fingers, before turning back three quarters of the way around the lake when the traffic started increasing and made my way to a restaurant in La Colonia Suissa, a Swiss community with wooden houses, and plenty of traditional Alpine regalia to dine on the famed Patagonian trout in Las Siete Cabritas, an outlandish restaurant with some of the best prepared food I've eaten in Argentina. A coffee and a lemon meringue pie later and I was ready to get back on the bike and take the dirt road section back to the start. 45 km and two very tired legs after having started (I haven't cycled seriously since the Land's End to John O'Groats trip a decade ago - though I plan on starting again in Munich) I gave the bike back to the rental company and chatted for a while with the owner over a cup of tea. Given that it was still early and it was the only day to be able to sight see I walked up the road to the start of the hill trail to the Campanaria watch tower and started pushing my legs up the extremely steep path.
A few pictures from the trip:

still life on the water
lakes and mountains in Bariloche
Passing a controlled bonfire in the forest:
light through the smoke and trees
Some icy proof:
Ice structures in Bariloche
This slightly strange looking photo was taken by resting the camera on a icy pond in front of the lake. The ice you can see stretches for about a meter in front of the camera but looks to go much further because of the unusual perspective:
stone in the ice in bariloche

After the cycle ride my legs were none too fresh and the half hour scramble up was quite a struggle, but the view from the top made it well worth it, as I emerged from the undergrowth to be greeted by the crowds who had come up by cable car. The panorama of the lakes and mountains is really one of the most stunning scenes I've seen and I would highly recommend this area to anyone coming to Argentina. The light wasn't that easy for photography, but I got a couple of pictures to try and give the general impression. Here's one for now
 Bariloche from the Campanaria

Back down the hill and into the centro atomico for a quick shower, before heading into the town centre to take a look around. It's a ski-tourist haven and a chocolate-lovers dream, somehow giving the impression of a Patagonian Swiss Alps and the usual crowds of skiers fills the streets lined with restaurants serving trout, lamb, deer and a few other local delicacies. Sadly by the time I got back to the lodgings it was too late to go out again so I popped to the local supermarket to munch on some empanadas before bed.

Thursday was a full-on work day and I was in the office and getting on with some calculations in the morning before my talk in the afternoon. The group is quite diverse and so I had to change my talk a little from the one I've been giving recently, adding a few slides of introductory material and bulking out a few explanations. Of the 20 or so in the audience, I'm not sure I saw a single sleeper which I count as a good performance in a technical seminar. With the snow gently drifting outside and a positive audience with good questions, I left relieved that at least some people had understood, and happy to have been able to give a talk in such stunning surroundings. Tomorrow incidentally I'll be giving my talk in Valdivia, famed for talks which can last for many, many hours so I'm not going to get complacent yet about my seminar-giving abilities. Anyway, Thursday night I managed to find a table at an asado restaurant and sampled the Patagonian lamb which was very very good.

Friday was time for the colloquium on atmospheric optics, and not only the whole of the centro atomico but also the whole of the town had been told about it. Half an hour before I was due to start I was introduced to a journalist with whom I gave a quick interview. It was a good chance to try and explain a little about atmospheric optics in Spanish, and also a chance to realise that my decision to not give a Spanish version of the talk in Santiago de Chile in a few days was probably the right one. Although I could explain about the different effects to the journalist, it was with a lot less of the technical precision and detail than I like to be able to give in English. For the talk, I guess there must have been a few over 50 in the room which was a nice sized group and they seemed to enjoy the images and explanations. It's a pleasure to be able to tell people about things which are always around them and therefore get to change the way they see the world a little on a day to day basis!

The talk over and a little more work later and it was time to get in the car with Gerardo and head out to the lakes for the Friday evening kayak session. In sub-zero temperatures we were well-prepared with several layers of neoprene, hats and gloves although I wouldn't have wanted to get any more than my feet in the icy waters. I shared a double canoe with Gerardo and we headed out into the lake, with the mountains looming around us and the sun gently setting as we paddled our way from the shore. Although I used to canoe a lot when I was around 10, I've done it only a handful of times in the last 20 years and although it was really wonderful to be doing so in such surroundings, my shoulders burned constantly for the two plus hours that we were out on the lake. It felt like a really serious workout but thankfully I haven't been aching since, the only complaint being the lack of skin on the inside of each thumb. Gerardo had brought along a water resistant camera and so I'll try and put up some photos when they're available.

After a lovely dinner with friends at Gerardo's house I got home and prepared for an early start the next day, to take a morning bus over the Ande's and into Chile where I am now, but I think that that will have to wait. I have to prepare a few more things for tomorrow but will see how things  go later today.