Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lightning and thunder and drum and bass

Blog posts remain half written and history becomes irrelevant. I've got a dozen minor stories from the last few weeks written up but they all seem rather parochial on re-reading them. A trip into the Alps a couple of weeks back with two friends, cycling through the forests and mountains was the highlight of the last few weeks. The weather has however been unseasonably bad and so good intentions to repeat the trip have fallen on soggy ground. The bad weather did at least bring one positive note which has been plenty of powerful storms. One of them came as I was safely at home and though the view from my window is mostly of trees and the block of flats the other side of the road, I carefully set up my camera with a 10mm wide angle lens and so was able to capture some of the lightening with long exposure takes:
lightning over Munich 5
lightning over Munich 3
Lightning over Munich
lightning over Munich 4
Apart from this, the photography has been on hold for the moment, though I've found a shop who is keen on selling some of my work so I'll head out on a picture hunt this weekend for some more Munich scenery.

Work has been very busy and I really need a break, which thankfully is coming in about 3 weeks - I've got to the point where my attention span is seriously lacking and I have to lock myself up in a room somewhere, out of the way of any electronic devices in order to concentrate on reading. In the mean time I got a new paper out last week and have a new one due in the coming days. The one coming has been a big effort, of numerics and of understanding but in the end we're very happy with the result.

On the going out and having fun front I discovered a new place last night. Planning on spending a quiet night in I got a last minute text from a friend, suggesting we head to a drum and bass and dubstep event - This was not to be missed, and in the end it was as much fun as I'd hoped! I've been going out about once a weekend recently, last weekend to the tenth anniversary party of a magazine that a friend writes for - lots of good music, lots of fun, especially with the two Russians and one Ukrainian Couchsurfer who were staying at my place. Most of the events I've been going to are full of the pretty fashionable strata of the Munich scene, and frankly I can't keep up. I get the idea of fashion, and I'd hope that compared to the stereotype (not necessarily the reality) of a physicist I do just about ok. But I find myself questioning the meaning and motivation behind fashion frequently and frankly I find myself confused most of the time. A very fashionable friend lent me some of his clothes when, after a dinner party, I was considered not well-dressed enough to go out to the place we were heading (this wasn't as harsh a decision as it may sound - I just wasn't dressed right for the place we were going). I was given some great clothes and headed out. The result was that I got a fair few complements on my clothes - but this did nothing more than dissuade me. I was the same person as always, just with some different colours and cuts. I didn't see why I was deserving of a compliment, or, put another way, why I was supposed to be somehow 'better' than my normal self. Although I do understand it, the whole thing feels more or less meaningless when I try and analyse it and I end up frustrated with the seeming weight that is given to the different facets of those we meet. That said, yes, I'm human, and yes aesthetics are important to me too, I guess though that on the fashion front I just don't attach that much value, though I also, hypocritically, appreciate it when someone dresses well. Perhaps this is all a self-pitying statement trying to excuse my lack of fashion senses - who knows?!

Anyway, the whole point about the above schpeel is that the event last night was completely the opposite. At a drum and bass event nobody cares what you're wearing and this felt really refreshing. People are there to dance and have a good time and this lack of pressure is wonderfully refreshing. I'll continue to go to the more trendy places, as some of my good friends here are fashionable enough and kind enough to not only go there but to invite me along too, but it's nice to have found a good contrast to this part of the Munich scene as well.

Anyway, I have 1000 Chinese flashcards to catch up on, two papers to write and a dozen other tasks to finish before I can head to the gym - better get on with it!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Some new perspectives on food and perspective

Any excuse to get out of the office these days is quickly pounced upon. Due to the status of the Max Planck Institute building we don't have air conditioning, and so on hot muggy days with computers buzzing and the heat of brains athinking on all sides, all I can do is try and keep from falling asleep at my desk.

Two papers are in their last throes right now and I'm wondering how best to approach another two very interesting projects, though now is the planning stage which just means lots of reading rather than shut-up-and-calculate time. Right now I'm just digesting and so thought I'd take a bit of a break to write up about the last couple of weeks' worth of events.

Most recently, last Tuesday we had the latest Chinese speakers' meetup which saw a group of 10 of us getting together and relaxing in a beer garden, chatting away in Chinese, while the tables around us looked on a little perplexed as to quite what this was all about. I started the group expecting to get mostly non-native speakers who would want to practice their bad Chinese, but in fact it's perhaps a 80:20 native to non-native ratio, good for us, painful for them! This week though we had a couple of French students who having spent just a year studying Chinese in Shanghai, already speak it pretty well (at least from my perspective). Next time we're going to try and get 40 people for hotpot and karaoke which should make for an awesome night!

On the cooking front we had the second gastronomic experimentation evening which was hugely fun. The menu was:

1) Steak tartare, salmon tartare and tuna ceviche
2) Guacamole made with some of the left-over ingredients from the above (I garnished the tuna ceviche with a very simple avocado salad) and an excellent lasagne from the next door neighbour - who it appears has some amazing Persian recipes up her sleeve.
3) Clams, quickly seared and served with two sauces. One was with a mango and curry sauce while the other was a tarragon bearnaise - I used a little white wine vinegar with the reduction and this was a mistake, as using lemon instead would have been a lot fresher.
4) Rosemary creme brulee, thyme creme brulee and an orange creme brulee - next time we'll add cardamon to the orange mixture and try to perform proper essential oil extractions from the herbs rather than just adding them to the custard mixture.

On the cooking front also I've just finished watching the Harvard course on science and cooking, which is a wonderful look at modern gastronomy techniques and the science behind food. I have to admit that the format of the lectures doesn't work very well for me, as the first ten minutes, an introduction to some of the equations that have been used in class time, either you know it already, or it'll probably go too fast to catch anything terribly useful. So, I've been downloading the movies and going through with variable speeds (easy to do with VLC)

Some of the recipes and techniques in this one are outrageously beautiful:

In this, the head chef from Alinea talks through some incredible ideas to get season and multi-sensory experience integral into cuisine

In this, Jose Andres talks about gelation and the incredible things that one can do with modern gelling agents. He's also one of the most passionate foodies you're ever likely to watch and talks a little about the use of solar cookers in the developing world in the last part of his talk.

and this one I still haven't worked out whether it's appalling or brilliant - a bit of both I think!

Also on the food-front there's the talk by Nathan Myhrvold here talking about his book Modernist Cuisine. I think that although it's a fun talk, you don't get the idea of quite how important this book is going to be. This is the new McGee and given that McGee is the book related to cooking that I read most religiously, I need to get hold of a copy of Modernist Cuisine!

Ok, enough for now, but I'll post up a picture I took last weekend in the church by Odeonsplatz here in Munich which I popped into with a Couchsurfer who was staying for a few days:

church ceiling in munich