Thursday, May 31, 2012

A night in Bristol

So the South. I sometimes give the impression of being a professional
Northerner. Various people have expressed surprise when I told them
that I was born in Southampton. But Craig you said you wanted to
move Parliament to Manchester and throw Boris Johnson in

When the North Sound divide is mentioned, I usually fail
to mention, that when my mum told me she wanted to move
away from Bournemouth, I said "OK, you should do what
is best for you." I then went into the back garden, fell to my
knees and burst into tears. No more beach holidays for

In the past and I lived in the US, when I used to get off the plane in
London, the strange accents of the people on duty used to freak me

About 4 years ago I went to a meeting in Bristol, but I didn't have time to look around. Out of the taxi I saw some nice houses and maybe a hint of a river. So when I was planning this trip I thought I would spend some time in Bristol.

This trip to Bristol was very pleasant. I like the accents
of the local people. When I was sitting in a pub having a beer,
some locals were complaining about the bus subsides in London.

My impressions of Bristol were of big buildings and lots of space. There were some nice rivers and lots of pubs and bars. As some point there was a big silver sphere. There were two big shopping centers, but they were in the open air. In fact everything was a bit too spread out for me.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

family train noise torture

I am sitting on a train between Bristol and Plymouth. The first part
of the journey was a nightmare. There was a very large extended family
behind me. There were a lot of children, parents, and then two grand parents.
This family were very very loud. Somehow the granddad was the loudest of them

The parents and grandparent would tell the children to be quiet -- even though they were 3 or 4 times as loud as their children. At one stage the granddad
was making burping noises. There was nothing crude about what they were shouting. There was no swearing -- just lots of never ending loud chatter. They were
all enclosed in each other, that the rest of the people in the coach did
not matter.

The  big family have just got off the train, so is quiet.
Also the train is travelling by the coast. The scenery is very

Perhaps I am just a old miserable git.

Manhatten in reverse

When I used to go on holiday, I always used to take a lot of books. I would then panic at some stage in the holiday and then buy more just in case. Now I just need a kindle, kindle reader on my smart phone.
However, I don't think we are allowed to read a kindle on the flight and definitely not on the take off and landing. So I still need a paper book.

So at Cologne airport I purchased "Manhattan in reverse" by Peter F Hamilton. According to the blurb on the front, Peter is Britain's number one writer. i really enjoyed the book. However, many of the stories were very optimistic about the power of science and technology. My guess is that society will be destroyed by the crazy Tories and their crazier tea party cousins in the US. There will never be work holes or positive genetic engineering of humans. We will all end up living in tents. To be fair to Peter, even the first story was optimistic about human progress, it did also involve the problems of the Catholic church.

I think this is the first book of stories written by  Hamilton that I have read. However one of the stories seemed very familiar. That was particularly weird because the story was about time travel and repeating lives.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How my phone saved my life

So I am walking around Bristol. You do see s lot of people string at their phones.

This android phone has changed me life. People make man wild claims for technoly. I can't stand people who do that, but having this new phone is like having a new child.

When I arrived in Bristol I had a little walk around and got some food. But it was so hot. I wanted to drop my stuff off at the hotel. Normally I spend hours looking at maps trying to find hotels and staring at maps. It was so hot and I was sweating badly. But my phone showed two little dots on  a map. One dot was me and the other was the hotel. I just walked and joined the two dots. And there was the hotel! I could have died from dehydration, but my phone saved me.

As it happens I had walked quite close to the hotel, but I had not noticed it, because it was close to a Wetherspoon pub and I was destracted by thoughts of food.

I had not noticed, but my phone told me that the name of the pub was called the "Knights Templar".

My main worry about my phone is the crap battery life. It almost can't get through a day without needing to be charged

So I left my phone in the hotel to charge and went to explore Bristol. But when I was in Bristol I kept thinking this would be so much more fun if my phone was with me. I could take pictures and check my email. There was a QR diagram for a bus tour of Bristol

Anyway I hope that you find from this post that an Android phone is a useful device to have. Obviously you don't want to get addicted. On the flight over I was sitting next to a fat guy who looked at his phone all the way through the flight. As we were getting close to landing, a steward asked him to turn it off. The guy then said, he didn't think the phone would effect the plane. The steward told him to turn it off now. He turned  the phone off, the steward walked away. He turned the phone on again. I was thinking, should I complain. I don't want to die because some fat guy likes to play "Angry Birds". He did eventually turn it off

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Start of a short break in the South of England

The last couple of weeks I have been feeling really burnt out. I booked a holiday to be after a deadline. Unfortunately I missed the deadline, but I still  had the holiday booked so ... I usually like to holiday in  foreign country. I grew up in the North West of England and to us the South is a different country. So I decided to visit the strange South of England, (also to visit some family).

I got the flight from Dusseldorf to Gatwick. When I got off the plane, there were a huge number of armed polices standing around with weapons staring at us. There was also a man with a dog.The dog rushed up to me and I thought I was back in Wuppertal. However the dog was looking for explosive of drugs. The policeman cam the second time with the dog, because it was a bit excited by me the first time.

Anyway I was not arrested. Welcome to England -- a police state. I now have a chip in my passport so I can go through the electronic barrier. This was a bit stressful as I had never used the system before. Anyway the barrier opened for me and I was in the UK.

What does a person need f they get off a plane around 10:00. Why a bacon roll of course. I had not eaten any bacon since Christmas (the last time I was in the UK). Gosh the bacon roll was tasty. People in Europe keep telling me that English food is shit, but have they eaten a bacon roll for breakfast. I think not.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On bile in reviews art versus science

As a physicist I often gossip, bitch and complain about my place in the physics world. However, the humanities take bitterness to critics to a new level.  For example , Alain de Botton wrote to a critic,
"I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude."

Of course in physics the most important review is the referees report for a journal article. These are used to decide whether the article is published or not. However, these reports are anonymous so an author has to first guess who to complain to. 

This review on  Damien Hirst's recent of paintings is both polite and very rude at the same time. 
In contrast this old review in physics is very mild.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The House on the Borderland

The radio shows on the BBC Iplayer can be listened to by anyone in the world. I often listen to radio plays, while I work. Last week I listened to an adaption of The House on the Borderland by  William Hope Hodgson..

Personally, I thought that Hodgson was using drugs. The story was based on a brother and sister living in an ancient old house. Many strange things happened. He was friends with HP Lovecraft which explains the weirdness.

The Eccentronic Research Council

I was listenin to the Freakzone radio show from last week. There was a great track from an outfit called The Eccentronic Research Council, The track involved Lancashire, I wanted to get the track. However, there is not to much information about them on the web. I found this site, bu it didn't have the track I wanted, which was Autobahn 666.

I tried Amazon, Itunes, and youtube, but I found nothing. This track is a well kept secret. It is not that I can't hear the track, it is also I feel my web hunting skills have been beaten.  I was willing to pay money.

Perhaps the freakzone team is making up new and obscure track just to torment us sad types who worry about these things. I could spend ten years tracking this song down...

OK now that I look at the above site, I see I just have to wait until the summer.

The E.R.C - The Eccentronic Research Council.
Post 1612 Ghosts on Pre 1977 analogue Synthesisers.
The Debut E.R.C. Album Featuring Narraration and Voices by Uk Actor/Actress Maxine Peake & SHOWCASING a few new singing Lady voices is due out this summer on BIRD (2012).

Biography of Doc Savage

I have wanted to read Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life  by Philip Jose Farmer for a long time. The book was out of print for a long time., but now is in the kindle store.

Doc Savage was the hero of large number of pulp adventure books written in the 30s and 40s.  There was also a not very good film in the 70s.

Farmer read over 100 of the adventures of Doc Savage and the created this biography.  Doc Savage was both a man of action and a good scientist - so very similar to me, except that I am not really rich. Like a proper biography he counts the number of times that the various characters get knocked out. In the later stories he wonders whether all the fighting gave them brain damage. All the characters started rich, but all ended in relative poverty.

Farmer spends a lot of time trying to work out where Savage's base is. In the end he thought it was in the Empire State Building. Then there is a long discussion about secret elevators and if they were allowed  under the safety rules.

Doc Savage has a college of crime where he cures criminals. As Farmer notes this was probably illegal, as it involved kidnapping and holding people illegally.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Dr Who addiction

I am starting to think I am addicted to Dr Who. I have been listening to the Dr Who episodes on the BBC Iplayer, watching old Dr Who series from Itunes, and even reading Dr Who novels on my kindle.
I just downloaded Dr Who and the Loch Ness Monster.

When I was young I used to watch the old Dr Who series with Tom Baker, but now that I watch them again on Itunes, I don't remember much from the shows. Britain was a very different place before the evil that was Thatcher  and the lure of loads of money. The Telegraph was a handy review of the top 10 Dr Who episodes.

Below are some of the episodes that I want to track down.

Klout score = 10 out of 100

I was just reading the above cartoon. I suddenly thought, but what is Klout.? Anyway I signed up. My influence factor is 10 out of a possible 100. Only 10! Boohoo.

In physics some one once told me the more senor you are the more you can hold the field back.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Communicating Science

During the last week I read "Communicating Science" by Nicholas Russel. This book was not a how to on science communication, but more a number of philosophical essays. The author points out that the outreach phase came from scientists, rather than from the general public. He gave some examples of citizens jurys, who tried to decide on the type of research that should be followed. Good luck with trying that with a high energy theorist.

There was even some discussion of science fiction. I was amused to see the claim that Fred Hoyle wrote a science fiction story about viruses/bacteria from outer space starting life, before he had written any scientific articles.

I didn't realize that Nature was started as a popular science journal.

It would be interesting to write a history of popular physics, from Feynman to Hawking. Given the amount of controversy over Krauss's book it might be interesting. I am still ashamed that I read the
Tao of physics before I went to University. Umm, Capra has an interesting publishing history in physics. He was an expert in Chew's bootstrap theory of particle physics that is no longer used after the development of the standard model of particle physics in the middle 70s.

I can almost see the plan of the book. I could start from Mr Tomkins (that I have never read, but will one day and end with the self promotion books of modern scientists. Perhaps somebody reading this blog will give me a book deal. I could get a joint position in a media studies department of the basis of that (boy that would make me cool).

On the other hand I want to call the book: "a short history of bullshit", so it is probably best if just scribble a couple of posts in this blog. I know my place.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Me versus mother nature or alien tech

It is just warm enough for me to need to have the window to my office open. Bits of white stuff floats through the window. This white stuff is also covering the steps up to the University. I read a lot o science fiction and that is starting to make me paranoid I think it is alien technology that is tying to absorb me.

Also I keep finding green worms on me. Am I being changed by an Alien virus that is causing me to bleed green worms. My life is like the Dr Who episode: the ark in space. I am watching this via Itunes and I am being converted into a bug, but where is Dr Who to save me?

People love their dogs in Wuppertal. Given that I have a 15 minute walk through a forest to get to work everyday, I see a lot of dogs. So normally I am used to getting barked at, but when I came out of work on Friday a German Shepard dog lunged for me and almost drew blood, while his owner paid more attention to his Handy.

Eminent Victorians

The last couple of days I have been listening to someone read Eminent Victorians by  Giles Lytton Strachey. The book was a biography of the following Victorians:

  • Cardinal Manning
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Dr. Thomas Arnold
  • General Gordon
The book is famous, because it was no particularly respectful to its subjects. Also  perhaps the Victorians were once regarded as the people who built the British empire. Like the decline of the Roman Empire, most of the problems were caused by deep Christean beliefs.

Manning became head of the Catholic Church in the UK. He seemed a bit of politician type. He was famous during his lifetime, but now is forgotten. 

I was interesting to hear about Florence. She was a very driven person, who was very demanding. I didn't realize that she was really more an administrator.

The Arnold guy was the headmaster at Rugby public school. He could have reformed the public school system in a useful way, but instead he devised a system that has led the feeble public school boys, such as Cameron. Arnold was very religious -- which caused all the problems. I did like the way he delegated a lot of power to the sixth form.

Man City

I should say that I am not that interested in football, but I was very pleased to see Man City win the premiership this year.  I grew up mostly in Knutsford a small town that is sort of close to Manchester. Before I was 18 I did know about the rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City. At the time United were not so successful, so there were fewer United fans around.

United have been so successful. The 8 years I spent living in Liverpool somehow made me hate Manchester United for no rational reason. I have been trying to see a video of the United fans crying when they discovered that City had won. Does that make me a bad person.

I was looking at the text from the Guardian. City only won in the last 4 minutes. Everyone thought City would win before the match.  So the game was bit stressful. I can' imagine what it was like for the fans.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

My worries about German democracy

I was just watching German TV before breakfast. They showed a clip of a TV show where a bunch of people sat around talking about stuff. Suddenly there was some shouting and confusion. Four people man handled a guy who was shouting out of the TV studio.

These talk shows are boring and there are a lot of them late at night. Personally I would have protested the lack of action films shown at night on German TV.

But then the host of the TV program asked that the person who was just thrown out to be brought back into the studio. They then argued with him and he stopped shouting.

It is scenes like this that make me worry about German democracy. I am English and come from a culture where we have had a 1000 years of democracy. In the UK the protester would have been taken to straight prison. Also the audience would have been charged 500 pounds to be there and that would keep the people n the audience to the correct class. Why does our ruling class need to listen to people when they have good PR firms to spin their policies.

I remember when I lived in Salt Lake City in the 90s. The evil Thatcher visited. My boss went to see her talk. There was a protester who was taken out of the hall and put in the county jail. He said during the 60s and the Vietnam years that would have been nothing and the person would have not been sent to jail. I notice that he didn't tall me of Thatcher's visit until after it had happened. Perhaps my ranting about sinking of retreating battleships worried him.

Go coffee go...

When I was at Liverpool one of the graduate students told me that I could have health problems because of the amount of coffee I was drinking. After his advice I started to take stock of how much I was drinking.

I would have two cups of tea before I got up and a cup of tea with breakfast. I would get a coffee when I got of the bus and started to walk up the hill to work. There was a small coffee shop in the building where I worked, so I normally would buy a coffee there, because there was a lift to the 8th floor. In my office I would have a cup of tea. At 11:00 there would be a coffee break for the group. Then I would drink more tea during the afternoon. I would only have a final coffee at about 16:00. I would drink 3 or 4 cups of tea in the evening,  but normally no more coffee.

So as you can see the students was talking bollocks, because I hardly drink coffee at all.

Normally in Wuppertal I just buy one coffee when I get in the morning, because there is a coffee shop n the same floor as my office and I am thirsty from walking in to work. There is talk of buying a fancy coffee machine  at work, but recently I have started buying some instant stuff. It is useful to give me a little kick, but no doubt everyone will shout at me for drinking instant coffee.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The magnetic fields are back in my life

When I used to buy CDs, I used to really love a CD by the Magnetic fields. The CD was was called "69 love songs".

I was listening to the Marc Riley show and he had the Magnetic Fields  in session. I really enjoyed the interview, because the singer had a "dry wit." Although I was bit worried when he said he had written a song below when he was so drunk he didn't remember it (but perhaps the wit was then not so dry).

In the interview, he said he preferred to play acoustically -- but why I thought call yourself the magnetic fields, if you hate electricity. Now that I read the wikipedia entry the band was named after a  Breton novel (that I might have read a long time ago). OK I am sure I have read a Breton novel, but probably not the magnetic fields

More fitness woes

Boohoo I weighed my self this morning. I am no longer 88kg, but I am back at 89kg. What did I do wrong?  I didn't go for a speed walk on labour day -- it was a fucking holiday. I did eat a chocolate bar on Wednesday with two sandwiches, because I didn't go to the Mensa for a cooked meal. Err what else. Ok I drank beer late evenings on Friday through Tuesday.

It doesn't help that the Guardian has all the stories about losing weight. For example this one has a man starting out at the weight of 76.6kg ! I was planning to stop dieting at 80 kg. And it looks as though he wrote a book about it. Why would anyone be interested in his book. At leas this blog post is short. Half of the guys work out is having sex with his wife -- but he not allowed to say how much he is having

I was going to snigger about the piece by David Mitchell on trying to get fit. He trashes people who are overweight and trying to run. Doesn't apply to me I thought. Bu then I though, although I speed limp around the forest close to my flat, I have not tried jogging , because I am no uncoordinated that it would look weird.

Friday, May 04, 2012

On the pleasure of hating

I once worked at a University, where they totally reorganized the coffee breaks, so I would stop complaining about various people during group coffee. i seem to spend a lot of time complaining about citations, reviews, and the latest publicity by some physics group.

When I look at what people do in literature when they get a bad review or don't agree with something, I feel like a light weight. For example you can read the comments about the short list for this years Arthur C Clarkes award, by Christopher Priest.

For example this is what Priest says about Charles Stross
 Stross writes like an internet puppy: energetically, egotistically, sometimes amusingly, sometimes affectingly, but always irritatingly, and goes on being energetic and egotistical and amusing for far too long. You wait nervously for the unattractive exhaustion which will lead to a piss-soaked carpet. 
Why can't I write physics reviews like the above quote. Actually I have read "Rule 34" that Priest slags off. I enjoyed it, but I am not sure I would submit it for awards. I certainly enjoyed other books more.

I have read in the past the book "On the Pleasure of Hating" by William Hazlitt. Hazlitt was a famous critic and essayist in the 19th century. But I remember nothing about and I certainly didn't learn any new sarcasm.

Of course although I have vague fantasies about writing some venom in a physics review,
but what if other people were rude about me in print. I wouldn't like it. Although it is tempting.
to write:

After Professor's X suggestions I look forward to his new ideas, such as the importance of breathing.

Even the criticisms of Gordy Kane  is mild relative to this book review. That starts with this great sentence:

It's hard to think why a publishing house that once had a respected history list agreed to produce this travesty of a biography.
There is article about the history of the bad review that has a great story how once person got revenge on a reviewer of a biography of John Betjeman.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Hollow men

I have been feeling exhausted recently. My brain seems to have been totally fried. Yesterday I intended to work, although it was a public holiday. Instead I spent the morning reading: The Holow men -  a Dr Who novel

My excuse for reading other Dr Who novels was they were written by Douglas Adams or Micheal Moorcock. I have no excuse for reading this novel. It was fairly warm outside, so I could finally sit on the balcony and read. Relaxation and all that. Ironically, the book involved Liverpool in a minor (and perhaps pointless way,  just when I was trying to finish work for Liverpool.

My life as a quant

It was Labour day on May 1st/ German takes these things more seriously than the UK, so we got a holiday on the day, rather than next Monday. To celibate Labour day I started reading  Frequently Asked Questions in Quantitative Finance by Paul Willmot. Unfortunately I needed a primer for this FAQ.

A long time ago I had purchased "My Life as a Quant" by Emanuel Derman. Emanual started his working life wanting to be a Physicist at a University. He was a graduate student at Colombia in high energy particle theory. The first part of the books is his experiences working as a graduate student and then as a postdoc. He starts out wanting to be the next Einstein, but ends up being envious of a postdoc in another office who gets invited to give a  seminar in France.  I liked the story that he was happy when he and another graduate student heard that there had been a small bomb in the bath room of the physics department of Columbia University. Some grad students can be so bitter I read about his struggles to write papers and get new postdoc positions and not getting on with his boss.

He worked in the general areas of phenomenology, but seemed to know a lot of people in (or used to be in) the field of lattice QCD. Given that he seemed to like computers he might have moved into lattice QCD, if he had stayed in physics after the 1980s, but he might not of liked the engineering aspects of some parts of the field, because he was still dreaming of being the next Einstein.

In the end he became quant, and this seemed to be something he was both good at and really enjoyed.
Although he is very careful in the book to say that the models may not work, given that the current economy has almost been destroyed by investment bankers and their dodgy models, he was not careful enough.  Although he is very well read, he never asked the metaquestion: do we really need these complicated financial instruments? Part of graduate training at Columbia probably didn't include sessions on why we need high energy physics.

I liked the way he added code to programs so that he could tell who was using the programs. He could then show the management who useful his group was -- that was good when people were getting laid off in other parts of the company.