Totally random bits before I go

13Sep08

Here are a few totally random snippits that I had hoped to incorporate in some posts. Enjoy!

  • Anybody who has not already done so should play with arXiv Structure. It’s not perfect, but it does a very good job of creating a ‘web’ of interconnections between papers. It’s a great tool for skimming the literature for a given topic and finding review articles.”
  • There’s been a lot of blogosphere buzz about people’s “bets” for new physics at the LHC. All of these bets usually involve some nominal sum of money and are made by people more knowledgeable than me and most of my grad student colleagues. As beyond-the-Standard Model grad students, however, our choice of projects constitutes a sort of bet about what direction the LHC will take our field. Instead of money, however, we’re wagering our academic futures.
  • New math songs. I recently found Tom Lehrer’s song making fun of the 1960s New Math movement. I was completely in stitches, however, after I found Bo Burnham’s much more risque `New Math’ song. (I had to listen to it a few times to catch everything.) Unlike other Math songs, (e.g. The Klein Four Group), Burnham’s song is not politically correct by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly had its clever moments.
  • For something a little more physics-based, I recently bought a copy of Peter Dong’s Les Phys CD of his Harvard undergraduate Math/Physics honors thesis. A sample song can be found on Professor Georgi’s webpage. (Unfortunately the lyrics to the other songs on the CD are a bit more difficult to hear.) For those who are interested, the CD can be purchased form Jeff Moran’s site.
  • Californians (especially those from San Francisco or LA) like to think of themselves as very worldly people. This is true in the sense of having diverse backgrounds, though most Californians my age thoroughly speak and think in much the same way despite looking very different from each other. At Cambridge, however, it was refreshing to have friends from all over Europe with their own national cultures and perspectives. In Durham, the group of postgraduate students included a much wider range of students from across the European and Asian continents. The ICTP, however, was a thoroughly refreshing experience full of a cacophony of languages and researchers from all over the world.
  • The Marshall Scholar Farewell dinner in London (last May) drove home one piece of advice that has characterized my Marshall experience: surround yourself with amazing people. It will inspire and motivate you in ways that you cannot before-hand imagine. This certainly holds true of all of my Marshall, Cambridge, and Durham colleagues and friends — I sincerely and deepy thank all of them for sharing their passion and vivacity.
  • In a stroke of unexpected synchronity, I was able to meet up in New York City with a group theoretical physics friends from my undergrad years in Stanford and, simultaneously, theoretical physics friends from my Part III year in Cambridge. This was a really, really special event since we are all theorists (from hep-ph, hep-th, astro-ph… unfortunately Steffen couldn’t make it, so no gr-qc) of the same year. The concentration of talent in our group was very impressive — I wish I could have taken a group photo before we all went our separate ways. Another thing that my years abroad have taught me is that a large part of doing physics is maintaining a network of friends and collaborators, and I really hope that our group will stay close as we inevitably bump into each other several times in our academic careers.
  • England seems to have a growing problem with knife violence and “ASBO” thugs beating up people. Urban cities in the US have much less of a problem with this for what appears to be the plain fact that guns are legal. Don’t misinterpret me: gun violence is a big problem in the US and I’m not condoning guns at all. I will offer, however, that the underlying problem in both places appears to not only be the implements of violence, but the culture of violence itself.
  • Even though a place can initially seem very different or even uncomfortable, people have a tremendous ability to not only adapt, but to enjoy it. I wonder, however, how much my experience was colored by my knowledge that it was temporary. I knew that I had a PhD position back in the US and could afford to take the attitude of “holding my breath till I get home” if I ever felt homesick.
  • I’m not an adventurer travelling to a distant foreign land. Britain is about the most US-friendly place one can go outside of North America.
  • If you want to make new friends, be bold and leave the comfort zone of your old friends once in a while. Some of my best friends in Durham were non-physicists whom I got to know because I was hanging out in the graduate bar.
  • For everyone back in the UK: America is very different from you see on TV. I guess the same holds true for Americans’ preconceptions of the UK.
  • One of the most useful conversations you can have with your adviser starts with this line: “How am I doing [as a student]?” Such conversations naturally come up when you’re asking for letters of recommendation, but by then it’s usually too late to modify your behavior. As a PhD student, I hope to be able to have a frank talk with my adviser at least once a year to check up on what my weaknesses are and how I should work on them, how I should fine-tune my approach to my work, etc. This is why you have an adviser, make sure to have these conversations.
  • A sign that I must be doing something worthwhile on this blog: I found a nice article about the proposed SLAC name change in the San Jose Mercury News. It seems to have borrowed quite a bit from a post that I made previously. I contacted the journalist and she said that she couldn’t find a way to reach me… and so she just completely copied part of my blog post and used it without attributing this site. And to top it all off her article referred to me as a “wag.”
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One Response to “Totally random bits before I go”

  1. 1 David

    Flip,

    I’m always impressed at how thoughtful you are about the people and places around you. Having been an American Physicist in England myself, I’ve really appreciated hearing about similar experiences from a different perspective (from someone more gregarious, introspective, and observant than I was).

    Too bad for the blogosphere that they’re losing you.

    –David



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