Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Belated update

Dear valued reader,
Apologies for not writing anything here for a while. Principle reason: Nothing interesting has happened. 
Well, that's not entirely true. I took lots of photos, but most are up on facebook - no time to upload to picasa. If you're on facebook, you know where to find them. They're okay, but they're not exactly erupting volcanoes!

Work proceeds apace. I'm sure I'm exaggerating, but it seems I have about 6 hours a week in which to actually chill, and that's with an optimistic average of 6 hours of sleep per 24 hour block. I also get a fair few zeds in each class, as is my custom!

Every now and then I do something exciting on the weekend. About a month ago I climbed Mt San "Baldy" Antonio with a group of fellow students to a height of 10056ft (or 3250m). It was the highest I've walked (I think) and I could definitely feel the altitude!

More recently, many of the choirs I'm in have done various performances, most of which were successful! A few weeks ago it was the olive harvest on campus, which I think was won by Ricketts Hovse (motivated by free food, I believe!)

Yesterday I noticed a baby turtle in one of the ponds on my way to class - it was maybe half the size of my hand. Awwww!

Two weekends ago I had the combined fun of grading question 2 of the Physics 12a mid-term paper (all 68 copies). It was the first time I've graded anything on this side of the pacific. It took quite some time to meticulously dissect every answer with my fluorescent orange pen of doom, and yet more time to fend off and avoid students finding me to ask for more marks! Fortunately I got grading/marking done in time to go flying on Sunday. I've been attending the odd class on civil aviation theory. I don't think I'll make it this time around, but there's plenty of time left in this PhD to get a private pilot's license! Speaking of licenses my efforts to get a Californian driver's license have been quite amusing. I hired a car (with my Australian license, which remains valid for a week or so more) and practised driving around on the wrong side of the road, without any difficulty. However the department of motor vehicles (or DMV) is the latest and greatest thing. I arrived last Friday 2 minutes after opening (at 8am after a 1 hour walk to get there) only to find that the queue already encircled the building. 3 hours later I made it to a desk and got processed, and by 5 hours into the exercise I'd passed my theory exam and got a learner's permit. Sadly no practical driving tests can be booked until well after my Aussie license expires (FAIL), so I'll have to hire an instructor sooner or later to drive me there and back! (And maybe teach me how to drive on the freeways here...).

No earthquakes of perceptible magnitude so far - I'm tremendously disappointed! Indonesia, I notice, has been getting more than it's fair share of geological activity, with three volcanoes (Merapi, Sinabung, and Anak Krakatoa) all erupting seriously in the last month. This most recent weekend I took off with a dozen or so fellow rock-acapellarians (the Fluid Dynamics) to a hire house in another part of LA for a retreat, which involved a lot of singing (mostly in tune), food, and watching movies. Rocky Horror (with commentary) and Rent were the order of the day. Probably the most amusing thing was that within 2 minutes of the end of a singing rehearsal EVERYONE had at least one laptop open and plugged into any available wall socket to do either homework or write some program. One girl was writing something in assembly - I was impressed! I nearly didn't even take mine along. There were a few moments of held breaths as we tried to figure out the wireless password. Fortunately we got it in the end!

In the meantime I approached a research group doing interesting work to try and suss out a research topic. Currently I've been given a review article to read and see what I think. http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1010/1010.5260v1.pdf It's all about merging binary black holes, which manages to be both an extremely elegant problem and an extremely difficult problem all at once. There's also a real possibility someone will detect the gravitational wave signature from one of these in the next few years, so it's an exciting time to be in the field. People have been trying to calculate this sort of thing since the 1960s - apparently it's quite tricky!

A few weeks back was the mid-term election here, which was interesting in the sense of almost palpable apathy, and really impressively poor journalism. In the end the democrats lost the house but clung onto the senate - an impressive feat. Meanwhile most politicians continue to fiddle while Rome burnt. I read the other day that there is a greater degree of income inequality in the US than in almost any other country - much more than in the traditional caribbean or central american plutocracies. Probably the best article I read about it putting a positive spin on it is this one: http://www.slate.com/id/2273708/, which points out that the point of power is to use it, rather than to cling onto it. It only remains to be seen if Obama can unbreak his heart enough to either fight congress back to tax, education, energy, and immigration reform, (and possibly a second term) or if he'd rather play the nice guy all along and hope the winds of hate blow themselves out. Fortunately either way the US has not yet gone the way of most other developed nations and drastically cut research funding, so there's some hope we'll science our way out. Interesting times we live in, yes!

One particularly happy note is that Amazon does free delivery here! It's actually easier and cheaper to buy books from the internet and have them delivered just after you've forgotten about them (awesome surprise) than to walk to the library, borrow the third last edition, lose it, pay fines, and eventually steal it out of spite. At this rate my room will be seismically damped by enormous looming piles of books by the time the next major earthquake strikes.

And that's the news to this minute. Come and visit me!