Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The public philosophy

Sometimes I think I would like the idea of discussing philosophy, perhaps in a debating club, an elegant European cafe, or in the oak study of my tutor at an ancient University.

I particuarly felt this when I was reading "The public philoshpy" by Walter Lippmann. Lippmann was some famous American newspaper columnist. The book was written in the 50s. Walter was very worried about the fate of democracies, after the second world war. He was worried that liberal states were under threat, because too many people were allowed to vote. He didn't like places like Russia where not enough people were allowed to vote.

He seemed to be in favor of the aristocracy being in charge, because they had a deeper feeling for making decisions about the fate of the nature, because they have been trained by doing things like fox hunting.

So I am confused as to what points he was making. I thought that Thomas Payne had explained why the aristocracy should not be in charge. I have a two word argument against the rule by aristocrats: Prince Charles. Do we really want that twat in charge?

Gosh, I would be so popular and "street" if I was a prof of philosophy, but I am not enough of a toff to get the position.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

alternative careers in science

F or perhaps fairly obvious reasons I have been reading: "alternative careers in science -- Leaving the ivory tower." edited by Cynthia Robbins-Roth. Each chapter of the book had a person telling the story of how they left University positions to do something else that was science based. Also they reported on a typical day. Some of the jobs were: science writer or program manager for the US military.

One problem with the book for me was that a lot of the contributors were actually doing some kind of biology research. The one physicist went to work for the APS. Also many of them didn't like lab work. I don't like lab work, so that is why I don't do any. I was surprised to see so many women authors, but that is just to more women doing research into biology, than physics.

One thing I noticed is that many of them are earrning more money than me. Most chapters had explanations of how you could earn more than 100,000 dollars. They were also working a lot harder than me. There were many people who started the day with a phone conference at 7:00 (or earlier). I think the authors are probably the people who are having the most fun outside the University system, rather than people stuck in an office job or teaching children.

I don't really want to do any of the jobs in the book, but it was useful to lok at the way people planned to leave accademia, say by networking, or taking additional courses.

I would like to be a bouncer, because this would keep me fit. I could start by doing security for physics conferences. If the LHC starts producing new results there will be many arguments at conferences and some people will need protection.

Explaining research

The IOP hosted an interesting web cast with Dennis Meredith about how to promote science to the general public. After that I bought a copy of his book: Explaining Research. (There is a useful website)

The book contains a lot of information about how to promote science, from blogs to press conferences. The book contains a lot of useful informationa and should be required reading for anyone doing physics research.

The one thing that I slightly disliked about the book was that he wanted everything done by professionals. For example he sugggested that pictures and videos should be taken by experts. What I dislike about some of the outreach activities, is that it encourages a passive consumption of knowldge. In particle physics all you usually get is some expert (who should be worshiped) spouting crap about something. They are usually not "dumming down", because what they talk about has no connection to the research they do. For example what does pretty boy Cox's research on diffraction have to do with time?

Obviously the string theory people pioneered this type of fantasy self promotion, and they have ended up making bankers seem honest. For me the issue is not using complicated jargon, but the outreach should reflect what we actually do, which is problem solving and collaboration, rather than promote some myth of a lone genius.

Obviously the string theory people pioneered this type of fantasy self promotion, and they have ended up making bankers seem honest. For me the issue is not using complicated jargon, but the outreach should reflect what we actually do, which is problem solving and collaboration, rather than promote some myth of a lone genius.

I think that Meredith's point that the public is not interested in a picture of a research group standing around is correct. Anyway some people reading this text will think, er Craig, you are not exactly famous for doing any outreach. Yeah, well I am thinking about it....

Explaining research is important now that particle physics is under attack again in the UK.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Duff beer

It was Duff beer that finally convinced me that Capitalism was doomed. Even after the banking problems had destroyed the economies of the Western world, I still believed in the power of the market. Thatcher's hidden pins has excised any thoughts of alternative ways of running economies, but a 12 oz bottle of beer cured me.

I was excited to see a 6 pack of Duff beer a couple of weeks ago in the City Akeda supermarket in the centre of Wuppertal. Wow, I thought why hasn't anyone thought of that before. Billions of people like the Simpsons. I watch it in German here.

I was telling me somebody that I had seen Duff beer for sale. They said it was no good beer. I normally only go to the City Akeda once a week. So I was in on Friday, and I noticed I could get a 12 oz bottle of Duff beer. To twitterize this story: "Duff beer tastes like shit". I didn't feel too good today, after drinking the duff beer, but that might have been because of the other, tasty, German beers I had drunk as well (to get rid of the taste of Duff beer out of my mouth).

No doubt the reason Duff beer took so long to be produced, was because of licensing problems. Why does it taste like crap? It has taken them over 10 years to make a cartoon beer real, and it tasted worse than Bud Lite. This is why the American economy is fucked!

Thanks to wikipedia it looks as though I have drunk the Mexican duff beer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Second Language Acquisition

I have just finished reading the short book "Second Language Acquisition" by Rod Ellis. The book was a survey of linguistic analysis of learning a new language.

Apart from the mundane issues of talking to another person, the study of language is interesting from a conceptual poiint of view. As Chmomsky suggested that language is an inane part of humans, rather than a skill that is learned, it is interestingy to study how people learn a second language. I found the book interesting, I was frustrated by the fact that none of the experimental studies ever concluded anything. people have tried to see whether children can learn languagaes better than adult, or whether some people are better at languages than others. There was no conclusive evidence.

Of course, some of the few people who read this blog will be thinking, "er how does this help you speak German. We are tired of speaking English." Look I am theorist, I like to understand how stuff works.

As it happens the only reason I have time to write this post, is that the University hast postponed the German test that was scheduled fro Friday. I was almost certainly going to fail the test. Based on only getting 20% correct on last Friday's practice test.

Monday, August 23, 2010

on Jack London

I came across an interesting piece about the writer Jack London in the Independent today.

When I was young I used to think that Jack London was a children's author, who wrote books like watership down, but set in the US. At some stage I did read John Barleycorn, a book about his drinking life. There were some great scenes in this book, like when some hard man bought him 3 or 3 drinks, before he understood "the round system".

After that I read The iron Heel. This was a political book. As the article in the inddependent notes, his politics was socialist, but some times a bit confused. I did read that Emma Goldman complained about that he talked socalism, but he never did anything.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New music

Back before the internet, one way to find new music was to go to the library and borrow tapes. Then you copy them. This is how I first heard Robin Trower. I have always felt a bit ashamed of liking Trower, because he was a bit hippy and cosmic. That was a bit uncool growing up after punk. But I really like his guitar sound. He is really gritty blues, so I am not sure what my younger self was worried about. I was reminded of my repression of my love for the music of Trower when a track was played on one of the freakzones on radio 6.

On a more modern front I really like the curtains of night a female death metal band from the US. They don't want to be friend on myspace. Perhaps I scare them. or perhaps they think I will compare them to babes in Toyland.

Thoughts on washing clothes

I have been using the Laundrette while I have been living in Germany. For the last few years I lived in the UK, I owned both a washing machine and a dryer. This was convenient, but I was sick of the expense of moving them from flat to flat. Frankly it was too much commitment. I need my freedom.

The laundrette in Wuppertal is modern, bright and clean. Crucially it is not too full of people. And most people seem relatively sane. I leave my clothes, go to shop for pens at the Euro shop, and then buy beer and fruit at the Netto supermarket. After that my clothes just need to be dried and I read my book. Sometimes I help people use the machines.

There is an interesting article on the BBC about laundrettes. For a while I used a laundrette in Liverpool. I really hated it because some of the people washing their clothes were crazy. Also lots of weird people seemed to wash large dusty curtains. Of course I would have been happy to use any of the laundrettes mentioned in the BBC article. I like the idea of checking my email, while my clothes dry. The BBc seem to have forgotten about the great film from the 80s: "my beautiful Laundrette.

In kentucky there was a Laundrette in a bar. I never went in. I didn't like getting carded to just wash my clothes. .

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The French Revolution

I had so much to do this weekend. All I managed to do in the end was book a trip to Graz and read "The French Revolution" by Christopher Hibbert. In my defense every true revolutionary need to know something about the French Revolutions, so the same mistakes are not made again.

Before I read this book, all I really knew about the French Revolution was that it started when Marie Antoinette said "let them eat cake." This is not mentioned in the book. In fact, I found out that Marie was actually Austrian, and that the guillotine was actually made by a German company (even that those pesky German exports went around the world). Also Robespierre was a fairly hard core Christain, but maybe not such a good Catholic. Before reading the book, I was also unsure what the connection was between "The Paris Commune" and the French revolution. Marx tried to learn the lesson of the "The Paris Comune", so I would like to do the same, now that I know what it was.

Ok, apart from these facts that maybe will be useful for a pub quiz one day, it was interesting to watch the various factions come and go from power. Also, it was important to watch popular opinion, particularly, when mass displeasure turns into the mob.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Me and My Shadow

While I worked in Liverpool I saw a flyer for a book set in Liverpool. The book was "Me and My Shadow" by Stephen Morris. In a misguide sense of loyalty to the Northwest of England, I added the book to my unread pile of knowledge.

The plot was based on some students taking over politics after being brain washed by an evil genius. There is sometimes a tension between students and "workers". This is sometimes known as "town versus gown". The author of the book clearly thinks that all the students do is get drunk and get depressed about failed relationships, because that is all that his characters do. Rather depressingly, no one got a bad hangover. Lucky young people.

At one point in the book, a student complains about people with Joke Degrees. A bit rich, I thought, given that none of the students in this novel, did any studying, or even talked about lectures, or worked part time jobs. In fact it looked as though the novel was set during freshers week.

The book is self published by authorhouse. Anyway I hope that Morris gets his money back.

Cancer and Hitchens

I was so sad hear that Christopher Hitchens has a bad throat cancer. According to the myth, he learned about his illness a few days, before going on the Daily Show program.

Christopher is a great essayist, but I expect he is a bit of a shit to know. I wsa impressed to see that some Christains were praying for him - but not for his recovery.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Christopher Hitchens
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Wuppertal Botantical Gardens

So last week I failed to go to the Botanical gardens in Wuppertal. After walking up nearly a million steps, I couldn't face walking up the next billion steps that seemed to stretch out into heaven. This Friday I decided that I would make it to the Gardens. Here are the steps, that stopped my journey last weekend.

So up the steps I trudged, into the clouds, and frankly almost to the edge of space. After getting to top level, it took a while to find the entrance. But then I was in and what a mythical place it was: a tower, some green shit (trees and grass), and some green houses. Also there was a fountain called "kein Wasser trinken". It made the destruction of my legs worthwhile.

After this test of endurance and mental strength it was time to celebrate by going to the pub. I decided on a traditional German pub as you can see.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Friday night quest ruined by the love of beer

Well Wuppertal has broken me.

I have felt that I have spent too much time in my flat drinking beer and watching TV. So I thought I needed a lifestyle change, perhaps drinking beer in a bar. Also I have been shopping at the same fairly small supermarket, so I should go to the shops down in the center of Wuppertal. So for the last two Fridays, after work, I have gone to the downtown of Wuppertal to shop and chug a couple of beers.

Yesterday I thought I would visit the Botanical Gardens that is allegedly close to the centre of Wuppertal. I have made two previous attempts to find these Gardens, but this time I thought I would take a map. Everything started well. I started from the main railway station and followed the map though some back streets. I then saw a sign for the Gardens. Then I saw the steps, and even worse these were named steps. Walking around Wuppertal always involves walking up and down hills. I had already walked down from the University on a big hill. The fact that the steps were named suggested that they went up a long long way. But I though in the spirit of adventure, I would go up.

So up the steps I huffed and puffed and hit another road. I walked along the road looking for these blasted gardens. I saw a sign for the Botanical gardens, and then I saw more fucking steps. No I thought. No! No more steps. I can remember happy boozy early evenings, after work, on a Friday in Liverpool or Glasgow. None of which involved spending all evening walking up steps. There seemed to be steps everywhere I looked. There were steps on the outside of all the high buildings, that seemed to mock me. I was just the uncertainity. Even if I struggled up the next level of steps, perhaps there would more steps. Was I that interested in these mythical gardens. There will just be some grass and a tree or so. I had found a nice bar on route. So I turned back.

A bit later I was the only customer in a bar close to the City Arcadia. I was thinking that this quest is really a metaphor for my life. I had failed. I am so unfit that a few steps defeated me. But next week I will try again. When I get to the top of those steps, I will be like Rocky, and jump around and shadow box. So next week I could be strolling in the Botanical gardens, and looking at the grass, trees and other outdoor shit. Unless of course it is raining.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Why not Socialism?

I was talking to someone about the 25 to 40% cuts in the budgets of UK goverment departments. They were pointing out how this was going to hard on people on welfare, while I personally was selfishly thinking about the effect on the science budget.

On reflection I thought I should spent some time reeducating myself. So I ordred the short book: why not socialism? by G A Cohen. The book starts with a parable about a camping trip with friends and family. What would happen if people behaved like members of a capitalist society. Then your friend would think you were a selfish twat. He then trys to extend the insight gained from this model to the running of society.

Of course because Cohen was an Oxford don, he only thought about camping rather actually going camping. The last time I was in a tent was at the Green man festival. Al the tents looked like a big sprawl of suburbia. Somebody did help me put up my tent, because I looked like a festival virgin.

Christie Marly's Own Double entry

For reasons not clear to me Amazon recommended to me"Christie Marly's own double entry" by B. S. Johnson. I felt in the need of reading more experimental (but short) work.

The book had a fair amount of author talking to characters. Normally this annoys me, but some how it was done in a fresh way. There was a strong plot in the book, that reminded me of "Fight club". (Well he wants to blow up the houses of Parliament, at the end of the story).

Today the Guardian has an article about the resurgence of new experimental writing. . There is even a picture of B. S. Johnson. What are the odds?? Maybe pretty good, if I am living in a novel, and the author wants to mess with my head.


I was deeply depressed by Stewart Lee's piece on collecting books and CDs. Like him I have aquired books and CDs. Unlike him I don't have to get rid of anything because a child needs to play where bookshelves rightly stand.

I have had to sell or give away books and CDs when I have to change countries. This pains me. One day, if I make an old man, I will be seen in a second hand book shop. As I open a book, I will start to cry. I will have seen my name written on the flap of the book. An old book of mine will have come back to its owner.

I have had to sell or give away books and CDs when I have to change countries. This pains me. One day, if I make an old man, I will be seen in a second hand book shop. As I open a book, I will start to cry. I will have seen my name written on the flap of the book. An old book of mine will have ome back.

If I dream at all, I would want a study and maybe a library. The library would be dusty, and perhaps would contain a small well stocked bar. Given that my reading has dropped off.